January 19, 2017

Are We Rushing to Judgment Against the Hidden Power of Algorithms?

Several recent news stories have highlighted the ways that online social platforms can subtly shape our lives. First came the news that Facebook has “manipulated” users’ emotions by tweaking the balance of happy and sad posts that it shows to some users. Then, this week, the popular online dating service OKCupid announced that it had deliberately sent its users on dates that it predicted would not go well. OKCupid asks users questions, and matches them up based on their answers (for example, “do you like horror movies?”), using the answers to compute a “match percentage” showing how likely two people are to get along.
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If Robots Replace Lawyers, Will Politics Calm Down?

[TL;DR: Probably not.]

A recent essay from law professor John McGinnis, titled “Machines v. Lawyers,” explores how machine learning and other digital technologies may soon reshape the legal profession, and by extension, how they may change the broader national policy debate in which lawyers play such key roles.

His topic and my life seem closely related: After law school, instead of taking the bar, I became a consultant to public interest organizations and governments on the intersection of computing, law and public policy.

McGinnis sees computing as an increasingly compelling substitute for many of the most routine tasks currently done by human lawyers, and on that he must be right: “[T]he large number of journeyman lawyers—such as those who do routine wills, vet house closings, write standard contracts, or review documents on a contractual basis—face a bleak future” as automation increasingly supplants their daily work.

But what about the more difficult cognitive work of the law — how much difference will technology make there? [Read more…]

Just launched — Equal Future: Dispatches on Social Justice & Technology

Hello, Freedom to Tinker readers! I’m writing to introduce a new resource that may be of interest to you. It’s called Equal Future, and is written by Robinson + Yu with the support of the Ford Foundation.
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