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Artificial intelligence: What are the legal implications?

27 Oct 2016

Artificial Intelligence has significant implications for the legal profession, according to legal firm Chapman Tripp, who says these implications should not be underestimated.

The firm has collaborated with the Institute of Directors (IoD) in producing a white paper calling on Government to take the lead in addressing opportunities, risks and challenges presented by AI.

“The legal implications of AI will be highly significant not only for law and policy, but also for the practice of law,” Chapman Tripp partner Bruce McClintock says.

“Lawyers have an important role in assisting policymakers as they adapt existing laws and regulations to advances in AI,” he explains.

“Initially, AI requires us to consider and adapt regulation in specific domains, such as for autonomous vehicles in transportation, or robotic medicine in healthcare. Over time, we will have to wrestle with the implications of AI for core legal principles like legal responsibility, agency and causation,” McClintock says.

Robotic technologies have already been shown to produce unexpected outcomes, he adds.

“This was the case in the ‘flash crash’ of the US stock-market in 2010, where algorithmic trading systems caused a US$1 trillion crash and rebound,” McClintock explains.

“It is this unpredictability that generates issues around foreseeability, causation and fault. While not a case for legal fault in that instance, it points to some of the issues we will see. It may be unfair to hold designers of systems that act unpredictably at fault, but that could mean victims are left with no recourse for compensation,” he says.

“As another example, what are the implications of driverless cars on the Accident Compensation Corporation, given they are already much safer statistically than human drivers in the few areas they are being used?”

McClintock says we will soon need to consider adapting regulation and safety standards in areas such as transportation, healthcare, and finance.

“The Ministry of Transport has started working on safety standards and conditions for the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Lawyers and policymakers will also need to consider whether legal regimes should be introduced or adapted – for example, to control the use of AI image recognition systems for surveillance systems and for medical radiography, or AI share trading systems that automatically execute trades on our stock markets,” McClintock explains.

“AI technologies will also impact on workplace safety, requiring directors and organisations to consider how these technologies should be introduced and managed from a health and safety perspective.”

McClintock says law firms are already beginning to test how AI can be applied to legal practice. In the US, an AI application has been shown to be better than legal experts in predicting the outcome of federal patent cases, McClintock said.

“The Chapman Tripp and IoD white paper is a call to action for Government to form a working group to consider the implications of AI for New Zealand.

“This is an exciting time to be a lawyer. As a profession, we should the embrace the opportunities AI brings, just as we continue to play our part in ensuring New Zealand and our clients address its legal risks in a pragmatic and fair manner,” says McClitock.

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