The golden braid of AI and (company) law: JURIX 2018
Between 12 to 14 December 2018, the University of Groningen hosted JURIX 2018 – The 31st International Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems. A number of us at the Company Law department (Iris Wuisman, Thy Pham, Morshed Mannan and Sjoerd Yntema) attended the conference to learn about the latest advances in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Law.
This blog provides some of our impressions of the conference as well as a brief introduction of our ongoing research that is at the intersection of artificial intelligence and company law.
Fittingly for a gathering of AI researchers - influenced as many of them were by Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid’ – the conference was held in the Het Kasteel, a Neo Gothic building that is said to have inspired Escher’s famous lithograph ‘Relativity’. The first day of the conference was dedicated to workshops on topics ranging from philosophy of technology to the explainability of AI systems. Several of the presentations and discussions during the AICOL workshop concerned the rapid integration of new technologies into physical objects (e.g. cars) and environments (e.g. cities), the immense volumes of data generated through this process and the need for soft law, ‘smart’ regulations, multi-stakeholder governance, ethical codes of conduct and educational programmes to complement traditional legal instruments in addressing these developments and preserving democracy at large.
The keynote speaker on the first day of the conference was Prof. Bart Verheij of the University of Groningen. As a researcher with a background in both law and mathematics, his work focuses on AI and argumentation, particularly in the legal domain. In his lecture, titled ‘Good AI and Law’, he spoke about how research into argumentation systems can help researchers make progress in the field of artificial intelligence. Argumentation systems model a critical thinking process in which hypotheses are constructed, tested and evaluated. Prof. Verheij argued that the development of argumentation systems can bridge the now existing gap in AI between knowledge systems (using pre-programmed knowledge to reason, such as a decision tree) and data-systems (learning by analyzing a lot of examples, such as machine learning). After giving a brief history lesson on the different trends in AI he showed, by using the example of article 6:162 DCC (tort), how the knowledge system that contained all the prerequisites for a tort, could be supplemented by a data-system containing a bulk of case law on tort. By uniting these different systems into one argumentation system, his current research seeks to incorporate the best of both worlds.
During the course of the main conference, there were numerous presentations on use-cases of machine learning and natural language processing in legal analysis. For instance, Giuseppe Contissa, Giovanni Sartor and their team at the European University Institute have designed a machine learning tool (CLAUDETTE) that can automatically detect potentially unfair clauses in Terms of Services and Privacy Policies. This is to address the problem that consumers do not read said documents, NGOs do not have the resources to address these clauses and as a consequence businesses continue to use these unfair clauses.
For those of us involved in research on Future Business Structures, attending this conference helped deepen our knowledge with respect to the technical and ethical aspects of using AI in businesses. As boardrooms have almost exclusively a cognitive output, AI systems can qualitatively improve this output. This can be seen within the companies that have already begun making use of AI in boardroom strategizing. The fact that AI is already used in practice as a tool by boards raises some fundamental questions, such as its implications on the independent judgement of human directors and collective decision-making and responsibility of the board. This in turn has implications on whether corporate law should allow for the introduction of so-called ‘robo-directors’ (an autonomous AI system) to sit alongside human decision makers, make autonomous decisions and act on behalf of the company. This is an area that has far-reaching legal and (corporate) governance ramifications but is also ripe for inter-disciplinary and inter-faculty research. Our current future-facing research seeks to explore and answer these and related questions.