Predictions 2016: Neil Brown

December 4, 2015

Dave was a lawyer. And, like most other lawyers in 2050, he was bored. He used to work on contracts for big companies, but that work had simply not existed for years, ever since it was discovered that computers could fill in blanks in precedents just as well as humans could.
His day was finally over, and he stepped into his car, sat back in his seat and unfolded his screen. As he began to scan through the news, his car pulled away, into the stream of traffic. Whereas once reading a newspaper while driving would have been an offence, it was now positively encouraged — the offence of dangerous driving had long been abolished, along with that of driving while intoxicated. Instead, the offence was now simply one of ‘driving’, after statistics showed that it was humans, not drink, drugs or distractions, which were responsible for most accidents.

The news was bland, with the headline reporting the results of tomorrow’s general election. Not that ‘election’ was quite the right word for it any more: the arcane approach of ticking a box on a form had long been replaced by computers analysing the preferences and behaviours of every individual over the last three years, determining exactly which individuals most demonstrated the behaviours and traits desired — even if subconsciously — by most of the voters. ‘Democracy by big data’, it has been called.

The car sped onwards, effortlessly passing the scene of an accident, where a runner, staring at a small screen on her wrist instead of ahead of herself, had run straight into a delivery drone. Thanks to vehicle tracking and geolocation, an ambulance had been dispatched to the scene automatically. For a not-insignificant fee, Dave’s law firm subscribed to the same data feed, and so dispatched two lawyers to follow the ambulance. Work was hard to find these days, with personal injury lawyers having a particularly hard time since, like smokers and dogs, they were not allowed inside the hospital.

In fact, most of the interesting work had fallen away over the years. Dave’s mind drifted back to his early training in copyright, and the notion that, otherwise than in an employment situation, the first owner of a copyright work was its author. The notion of a ‘human author’ of a work now seemed quaint, with those provisions banished to the end of the Act — computer generated works were now the norm, not a rather unwieldy exception.

A message pinged in to his screen and, a couple of hundred miles away, the automatic counter at Government Monitoring HQ increased his message tally for the month by one. It was a notification from the court that one of his client’s cases had been decided — the jury had failed to reached a unanimous verdict after two of them had swiped left on the official Criminal Court app. He occasionally logged in to court himself, to follow proceedings, but today was not one of those days.

He flipped idly to the latest issue of {i}Computers & Law{/i}. There had been a rumour that the issue of whether an IP address was personal data had just been resolved, but this turned out to be mere conjecture.

Some things never change.

{b}Neil Brown is a senior telecoms and technology lawyer at a global communications company and a director of the United Kingdom Telecommunications Academy. He is a member of the Institute of Law and the Web at the University of Southampton, and is a member of the Law Society’s Technology and Law Reference Group.{/b}