Laurence Eastham picks out, and at, some themes from this issue
This issue focuses on two contrasting themes: the misreported and over-hyped introduction of GDPR and the misreported and overhyped applications of artificial intelligence. I am at a loss to think what they have in common.
The truth is that GDPR is important and challenging but, like a Christmas puppy, it is not just a one-week or one-month wonder. Those of you with real expertise and good planning skills will have got your clients to take all the appropriate steps well before the 25 May crunch and will by now be able to get them to do tricks that would make Pudsey, the dog that won Britain’s Got Talent, green with envy. I think I might leave the dog metaphors there – you get my point.
What depressed me about the prelude to the GDPR’s implementation, other than being shunned by most when I mentioned the importance of the topic and refused to accept the ‘bloody EU’ reaction, was that so many cared so much – but for such a short time. It is already thought by some to be something that happened – a one-off, box ticked. Indeed, very often it was literally a box ticked. As I mentioned in my last editorial, the challenge was to build on the increased awareness and convince the wider public and wider business that data protection matters and will continue to matter for the foreseeable future.
For our part, my hope is that we will continue to cover developments in data protection and will make a special effort to highlight its relevance to so many varied areas of activity. Nicola Cain and Rupert Cowper-Coles exemplify this with their analysis of the effects on publishers of the new regime. But, of course, we will not neglect the analysis that is so desperately needed of the new Data Protection Act 2018. I would love to hear from volunteers who have something to say about the varied parts of the new Act.
Like data protection, artificial intelligence is not going away in a hurry. The trouble with AI is that it is a term applied willy nilly. Sometimes it’s software that was around 20 years ago and is just software; sometimes it is automated form completion, albeit in a jazzed up version and I am convinced sometimes it is a product labelled AI simply because its claim to intelligence is so obviously artificial. So it is not altogether surprising when claims of AI advantages and breakthroughs are treated with the sort of scepticism directed at the boasts of sexual experience made by teenage boys – a sort of communal ‘yeah, right’. But there is a danger there. Sometimes AI is genuinely present and making a very real difference and it is crucial that the law is ready for its more general application.
AI is readily adaptable for malevolent purposes and history shows that it certainly will be. A law that merely reacts to the ill-effects will be bad law. We need to have strong legal bases in place soon – starting, as is pointed out in this issue by Lord Clement-Jones, with strong ethical principles that can stand up to a rate of technological change that is unimaginably accelerated by the exploitation of true AI.
I am pleased that this issue hosts Richard Susskind’s tribute to Sir Henry Brooke. It moved me to tears but also led me to happy recollections of the few occasions that I had the pleasure of Sir Henry’s company – in person or electronically. Whether it was Bailii or Dove Cottage, court technology or the use of language, I was never anything other than enlightened, often amused and even sometimes inspired. There was something about his openness of mind that was unique in one from a background of such privilege working in a field that, almost by definition, is hidebound and closed.
It is sad that SCL has lost both Sir Henry and Sir Brian Neill in such a short time. I find myself in awe of what they achieved and Richard’s tributes, in this issue and the earlier issue, serve to remind us all of what extraordinary men can do.