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Alex Heshmaty

Alex Heshmaty is a legal copywriter and journalist with a particular interest in legal technology. He runs Legal Words, a legal copywriting agency based in Bristol.

AI conversation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a very broad term, covering everything from relatively simple document automation techniques right through to Stanley Kubrick’s HAL

For purposes of this article, we will consider AI to mean the current application of “intelligent” technologies to provide a solution to a problem, as opposed to a free thinking machine. In this sense, AI consists of concepts such as machine learning and natural language processing (NLP); generally computer programs which can either be trained to perform routine tasks or which interact with humans in a more natural way. AI tools may help to:

  • automate routine tasks;
  • manage and analyse vast quantities of data (Big Data);
  • spot discrepancies in data to aid compliance;
  • interpret natural language queries and sift through data to provide relevant answers (eg chatbots);
  • predict future outcomes based on patterns from past data.

Hacker Firewall by Christoph Scholz

Encryption is a way of making data secure, so that it can only be accessed by authorised parties. Cryptographic techniques are used to render information unintelligible to any third parties whilst it is being stored on an electronic device such as a laptop or smartphone, or during its transit from sender to recipient over the internet or other types of computer network.

There are many techniques of encryption but the main principles are as follows:

  • Unencrypted data is referred to as “plaintext”.
  • Plaintext is encrypted using an algorithm known as a “cipher”.
  • The algorithm also generates a pseudo-random encryption “key”.
  • Once plaintext has been encrypted it is known as “ciphertext”.
  • The ciphertext is unreadable and can only be deciphered (ie converted back to plaintext) with the symmetric (private) or asymmetric (public) key which was previously generated by the algorithm.
  • End to end encryption means that data which passes through a company’s servers (eg WhatsApp) can only be read by the sender and recipient and cannot be accessed or interfered with by the company handling the data.

Hologram 08 by Ian Truelove

The development of the internet has gradually shifted many aspects of modern life from the real, tangible world to a virtual, digital domain: music, films and books are stored in the cloud, social lives are conducted online and bank accounts are managed with apps. As we move towards an increasingly online existence, this raises the question of what happens to all our digital assets and personal data once we die and how these “digital legacies” can be bequeathed.

Blockchain

The origin of the term “smart contract” has been attributed to Nick Szabo who wrote a paper in the late 90s in which he described them as combining “protocols with user interfaces to formalize and secure relationships over computer networks.” However, the more popular meaning of “smart contract” in current parlance, and for purposes of this article, is an agreement which is monitored, executed and enforced by blockchain technology.

Code by Michael Himbeault

Predictive coding is a form of technology assisted review (TAR) used to assess the relevance of high volumes of documents for purposes of electronic disclosure (e-disclosure). E-disclosure refers to the disclosure of all electronically stored information (ESI) – as opposed to any hard copy documents – as part of the litigation process.

virtual reality girl

The basic idea of virtual reality (VR) is to create a computer generated environment which someone can experience and explore, through the use of a headset (incorporating vision and sound) and sometimes other input devices (eg haptic gloves) which allow them to manipulate their virtual surroundings. The concept of a computer simulated reality is nothing new and experiments with VR systems were already being carried out in the late 60s (eg The Sword of Damocles). Advances in technology during the late 80s and early 90s led to an increasing cultural awareness of VR through films such as Lawnmower Man – and the rise of computer games prompted more companies to attempt to create a device which could be used in the same way as a home console. But progress was slow, with a trailblazing attempt by Sega in 1993 terminated, officially due to fears that users could injure themselves by moving around due to the “reality” of the headset (although perhaps more to do with limited processing power and reports of testers developing headaches and motion sickness). However, although it struggled to take off as a consumer device, VR systems have been used for many years for training in certain professions: teaching pilots to fly, police officers to shoot and surgeons to operate.

net-neutrality

Net neutrality is the idea that all data sent across the internet should be treated equally, without the application of any discriminatory filtering based on specific criteria. To better understand the concept, it helps to view the internet as a “dumb” network of pipes merely facilitating the flow of data from one location (eg a website) to another (eg a user’s laptop). Since the inception of the internet, a variety of techniques have been used for commercial or law enforcement purposes to restrict this data flow, either by preventing certain data from reaching users or conditionally slowing down the speed of data.

big-data

Towards the end of 2015, the EU institutions reached agreement on a new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will replace the 1995 Data Protection Directive, seeking to implement a stricter and more harmonised data privacy regime. The new GDPR, which was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 4 May 2016 and is expected to come into force on 25 May 2018, is considered to be one of the most comprehensive overhauls of EU privacy legislation.

google_for_work

In 2013 I wrote about Google Drive and Chromebooks for lawyers interested in adopting a more cloud-based approach. Since then, many businesses have turned to cloud solutions and Google has been actively promoting Google Apps for Work which includes a range of its products.

laptop, tablet, smartphone

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) refers to the growing trend of employees using their personal laptops, smartphones and other communications devices in the workplace or elsewhere for work-related purposes. The related Bring Your Own App (BYOA) is essentially the software version of BYOD, where an employee uses personal (often cloud-based) software for work purposes, which could be something as simple as forwarding work-related emails to a personal Gmail address. According to recent research, more than half of UK workers have already adopted BYOD, and employers are increasingly asking their lawyers for advice on managing the employment law aspects. Both BYOD and BYOA throw up similar issues concerning security, privacy and ownership.

big data for law

The term “big data” essentially refers to very large sets of data, as well as the processes used for capturing, analysing and extracting value from these data sets. An often-quoted definition of big data is Gartner’s 3 Vs: “Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.” Discussions around big data often focus on public benefits (such as crime prevention or health research) or its value to business (such as upselling and recommendations engines). Big data techniques can help people to spot general patterns or trends (often with the use of visual displays) but can also be applied on an individual targeted level.

driverless car

Advances in electronics and computing have gradually been automating various driving functions over several decades, introducing intelligent systems such as ABS and traction control and the more novel automated parking features. However, although Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab project experimented with the idea of a truly autonomous car back in the 80s, the spectre of a roadworthy car which drives itself has remained in the realm of science fiction – until recently. Over recent years, Google has been regularly making the headlines with its self-driving car project, which applies a range of sensors (lasers, radars and cameras) along with powerful computing software and extensive mapping to enable customised vehicles to drive themselves on public roads, safely transporting passengers from A to B.