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[berkman] The Law Lab

John Clippinger and Oliver Goodenough, co-directors of Berkman’s Law Lab are giving a lunchtime talk.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Urs Gasser introduces them by giving some background on the Law Lab. It arose out of a 2008 workshop on innovation. How could we think in innovative ways about the law? How does law work in a digitally networked environment? How does governance play? The Law Lab is a rich environment, open for collaboration, that does research, explores ideas.

John says that the mission is about multidisciplinary and collaborative research: evolutionary, neurological, and computational sciences, not to mention psych, sociology, law and economics. It aims at doing experimental research in the wild. It will create open technology “for governance and mechanism design — private production of norms, rules, common law and statutes.”

From John’s view, the Law Lab is called for now because of the merger of the physical and the digital, the accelerated rate of evolution, the inability of legal and legislative processes to keep page, the under-investment in tech for the legal sector, the globalization and privatization of jurisdictions and rule making, and the rise of total surveillance.

The Law Lab is building an “open governance platform.” First, they’re building an identity system (”persistent, contextual, mobile, pseudo-anonymous”). “You can’t have trusted systems without some form of identity authentication.” 2. Reputation systems. 3. Dispute resolution. 4. Credit assignment (”multiple, independent, convertible currencies”). 5. Authentication of claims about attributes such as age and income. 6. Balloting and voting. 7. Metadata analysis (”transparency, tracking, behavioral anaysis”). 8. Enforcement.

For example, the Law Lab has developed I-Cards, a way of authenticating without using passwords. It’s now on the iPhone.

John is also interested in whether contracts and laws can “evolve over time to protect fairness and transparency?” … evolve algorithmically over time. The Law Lab has teamThere’s a “soft-paternalism” in their first approach, making some decisions for you.ed up with Conceptnet at MIT and created their own conceptnet for legal concepts. Then they created a term sheet as a model and a test. They LISP-encoded it and modelled it under different conditions. With different shareholders, what happens?

There’s also a Gov. 2.0 platform, partnered with the O’Reilly Group. Rather than gov’t as a dispenser of services, it could be an enabler of services. Finance 3.0 would put financial data into XBRL. We could use data aggregation and visualization to manage risk (e.g., Palantir on mortgage backed securities). There’s an initiative to create a National nstitute of Finance. Also, the Law Lab has been involved in the Open Trust Framework.

Next for the Law Lab: An open platform for conducting experiments using web tools and services (e.g., Scriptgen). Also, it’s partnering with MIT Media Lab on developing open gov’t platform and pilot applications. The Law Lab wants to do experiments on group formation, differentiation and cooperation. Also, it’s partnewring with the Aspen Institute (gov’t 2.0) and the Santa Fe Institute (evolvable contracts).

Oliver Goodenough talks about his Vermont Digital Companies project. He says the Law Lab has three tracks: Pure-ish research (Yochai) . Applications Oliver). Straddling those two (John C.). The purpose of the Application Track “develops and disseminates applications, rooted in digital tech, that help law to meet the needs of innovators and entrepreneurs.”

What happens when you put institutions into the digital world? In VT they’re going to “use sw to create platforms for private legal structuring: agreement and execution.” It’s about halfway through the process leading up through deployment. VT changed its law of business organization in 2008. It enabled a digital interface for filing for corporate status. It allowed the use of communication media that allow a back and forth. But what’s new is that it allows digital originals of by-laws, operating agreements, etc. The sw isn’t just a way of using what you had in writing, but can be the original . VT also fixed the tax laws.

This permits “expanding opportunities and increasing the birth of firms.” Lower cost. New institutions of economic cooperation. Low-capital companies. A company could be formed even if it were fully digital and the employees and founders had never met in meat space. While there are companies that advertise online incorporation, they send out paper forms, etc.

Challenges: 1. How much standardization? 2. Disputes and dispute resolution. 3. Liquidity: sale and withdrawal. There’s a “soft-paternalism” in their first approach, making some decisions for you because, at least initially, it’s too hard to put in complex choice processes. (At the moment, it’s aimed at small working groups — five, not five thousand.)

Next steps: Looking for partners and adopters (including LinkedIn and Facebook developers), and implementing deployment. It should be out this fall. It’s open source.

For the future: There could be a Cambrian explosion. Also, they’re working on taking it to non-profits. And beyond VT.

Q: What about spoofing attacks? Are you including the authentication stuff John talked about?
J: Yes. I-Cards are a first effort to do that. (That’s not something we’re doing; it’s a much bigger effort.) There will be different levels of assurance.

Q: How smoothly does the sw keep up with the changes. If the company wants to change rules that are not supported by the program (e.g., majority rule), you’d have to wait for a programmer…
O: Yes, but you can also opt out of the program.
J: The platform idea is to make a componentized architecture so new voting mechanisms or dispute resolution mechanisms can be swapped in.
O: We started with the simple version…

Q: [terry fisher] This gives a great sense of the range of stuff you’re doing. But, what are the goals? It seems like there are four: 1. Efficiency — mechanisms so people can do more efficiently what they’ve been doing traditionally. 2. Accessibility — make this available to, for example, people without a lot of capital. 3. Visionary — Trust, authentication, etc. are about stabilizing the person in the virtual space in a way that is controversial. E.g., it’s not the multi-avatar vision. 4. Libertarianism — a lack of faith in legislation and adjudication in their traditional forms, and people outside of the traditional gov’t ambits can better devise rules and mechanisms for enforcing them.

J: There’s a body of literature that talks about how signaling, brain science, evolution, reputations, work. It’s not particularly libertarian. Part of the Law Lab’s goal is to leverage the research and brings it into governance. The question of how citizens can create law is an experiment.
Terry: But you’re creating toolsets that make some things easier than others…
J: This comes from studying biology. ARe these required components to get self-governance?
O: You posed the question as if there were a dichotomy between gov’t regulation and citizen evolution of regulation. But it’s not an opposition. These are both tools that have uses. And, as far as stabilizing identities: The Net is good at supporting multiple identities, but that’s not how you need to present yourself for accomplishing certain types of goals. There are places where the openness is completely appropriate and to be celebrated, but that’s not mutually exclusive from having authenticatable identities.
J: You can have a variety of identities. You can be authenticated and anonymous. The system is designed to support this plurality of identities.
O: We’re exploring these things because they’re properties of the Net.
J: The gov’t 2.0 platform is supported by this new administration, but then the issue of trust between gov’t and citizen becomes very important.

Q: If contracts and laws are defined by computer code, what happens if it has a bug?
O: It means your code has to be good. It’ll never be bug-free, but neither will a partnership agreement. And you can export a static, digitally-signed agreement as a fallback.

Q: What’s your vision for what will substitute for the current process by which attorneys explain what the contracts mean, and the redlining process…?
O: We assume with the current version that the people have attorneys. The more complicated tools may be lawyer tools.

Q: What are you doing that legalzoom doesn’t?
A: LZ throws you back into the old pen and paper world. We automate the entire life history of a company…
J: You can crate a new form of governance. You dion’t have to have a b

Q: [me] How are you opening this up, making it collaborative?
J: We’re just getting started. We’ve had some workshops in DC. There’s been a lot discussion around the identity stuff. Before the new identity platforms arose we were going to have a top-down, draconian, Orwellian system. As you design these new mechanisms, you’re designing new types of institutions. Little decisions can have major implilcations. We need lots of security. The cybersecurity efforts are intense in DC now. There probably won’t be a cyber czar. They’ll outsource identity, privatizing a major function. These are all complex issues. It’s hard to get a group around it to engage with it.
Urs: John’s platform is different than Oliver’s. John’s platform is much more at the conceptual level to see what an open platform would be like. It’s about creating interoperatbility based on an understanding of the key ingredients you’d need for open gov’t. We’re not making decisions about how the identity tool or reputation is built. We want to see what would be required in a platform to enable these things to be built. It’s much more about networking.

Q: Are you missing out on how these tools could change how we think about low. E.g., property.
J: I’m very interested in rethinking the fundamentals of law. E.g., social signaling studies how people go from informal to codified interactions? We need to uncover how the brain works socially.
O: One of the goals of digital institutions is to make it possible for people to organize in new ways, not the stock capital-based ones.

Q: Internationally, there are differences over the nature of privacy. It’d be very cool to have a tool where you had info about how the right to privacy has been enforced in the case law that’s developing across the globe.
O: Would love to do that.

Q: Using algorithms in contracts is really intriguing. But what happens if the one you want to write is patented?
O: It’s unclear where business methods are going wrt patentability.

Urs: I like being involved in the Law Lab because you get exposure to new ideas. E.g., some of John’s ideas are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for lawyers. But that’s a good thing. And keep in mind that this is a lab, so there are many more questions than answers.

[John Clippinger is a mad scientist, in the best sense. Looking forward to what emerges from the Law Lab...]

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More Stories By David Weinberger

David is the author of JOHO the blog (www.hyperorg.com/blogger). He is an independent marketing consultant and a frequent speaker at various conferences. "All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don't believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don't know about. Put differently: All I'll hide are the irrelevancies."

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