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Law must be adapted for the Fourth Industrial Revolution


We are at the borders of a new revolution, characterized by a range of new technologies that are merging the physical worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries. It merges the capabilities of both the human and the machine, encompassing a wide swath of areas such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, biometrics, renewable energy, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. Tech optimists posit that the wave of exponential growth in smart tech, artificial intelligence, machines and the interconnectedness of all aspects of modern life through technology will bring profound changes to society, and creates an unprecedented shift from the way we are familiar with — how we behave, interact and think.

However, like the industrial revolutions preceding it, the shifts in power brought about by such human-technological systems also bring about issues of inequality in terms of who benefits, as well as challenges to security, privacy and community. The onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help societies establish communities that reduce poverty, allow for good standards of living, increase sustainable energy sources, and improve social cohesion and inclusion — if navigated wisely. Good governance, proper regulation, and adaptability of the law need to be the crux of the approach to handling Industry 4.0.

The legal challenges imposed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are both new and greater. Data has now become a valuable business asset which fosters innovation, and lawyers must begin to ask the right questions in order to understand the creation process of data assets, its monetary value, and how it drives business. There exists an expectation that companies will use Big Data to monitor and protect their supply chains and to obtain greater insight into their customers. With Big Data tools becoming more powerful and mainstream, it may be incumbent on companies to foresee potential safety and security issues with new products and new technologies. In this regard, lawyers would need to understand the data of companies and what may be learned from the data to address challenges and mitigate legal risks.

In certain respects, data can be compared to the new oil, with the “datafication” of every aspect of human social, political, and economic activity. Data also defines modern geopolitical realities. The initiative for binding international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement reflect a struggle to restructure the global economy around the protection of digital assets. Countries and private firms that can leverage artificial intelligence to industrialize learning and innovation will have an unprecedented degree of political and economic influence.

However, the existing multilateral institutions do not have the capacity or infrastructure to bring about such leverage. They were not designed to regulate intangible assets. Accordingly, adjustments to the regulatory architecture of multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund might be critical in shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With the World Trade Organization currently debating new rules for digital trade, countries such as China, Russia and Brazil have already begun to formulate their own.

Courts will play a critical role in the push for new rules for digital trade. But in many countries, they have been criticized for slow speeds and high costs. If the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to bring about positive change to global communities, the law must make required adjustments to remain effective and utilize the technological advancements taking place. Lawyers need to envision the impact on the courts of artificial intelligence, block chains, bio-engineering and autonomous machines. Already, a court in Cleveland in the United States is using an artificial intelligence tool for sentencing. As such, artificial intelligence can be used as a tool to help predict the outcome of cases.

Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies might therefore require Fourth Industrial Revolution laws. The unknown in the evolving environments in the digital age necessitates a new narrative. Such a narrative can no doubt emerge from the law. By establishing boundaries, the law can incentivize new industries to act in ways which are not detrimental to humans.

It is important to keep in mind that technology is about choices and with the Fourth Industrial Revolution underway, it is necessary for humans to be clear about the choices they are making. Major technology companies have both the money and influence to implement technology at a greater scale than ever experienced. The positive externalities from this can be limitless — but so can the risk that industry is bent toward the profit and influence of companies, and not to members of communities.

For example, one of the main concerns linked to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that of a jobless future, where machines, algorithms and computer programs take over the work done by humans and render humans not only unemployed, but also unemployable. However, people must be proactive in shaping this technology and disruption. In doing so, the fear of losing jobs to technology is significantly reduced.

All of this will require global cooperation and a common view of the role of technology in rearranging economic, social, cultural livelihood. There is also the need to develop leaders with the skillset to manage organizations in the context of these changes. Professionals need to understand and embrace changes as well as realize that the jobs done today might be drastically different in the near future.

Accordingly, education and training systems need to show adaptability in preparing individuals for the skills that are required in the workplace of the future. It is also important that governments and the legal system are not left behind in regulating the new fields, as this would lead to a shift of power towards technology and its owners, with the possibility of creating situations of inequality and fragmented societies. As the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues, the institutions that affect these innovations must revolutionize as well.

Ali Abusedra is Doctor of Law and Visiting Scholar in International Law at University of Hull, United Kingdom

Tags Artificial intelligence Big data Data management Emerging technologies Internet of Things Technology

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