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Singularity and the law | Jerry Levitan

Tuesday, September 29, 2020 @ 11:35 AM | By Jerry Levitan

Jerry Levitan %>
Jerry Levitan
Man has a limited biological capacity for change. When this capacity is overwhelmed, the capacity is in future shock.”
 Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles.
Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish

For those of you who are not science fiction fans, students of artificial intelligence or generally cognizant of the world around us, singularity is the projected moment when technological advance surpasses that of the human brain resulting in incomprehensible changes to civilization. If this concept and proposition has validity, and who amongst us doubts this, the inescapable conclusion is that legislative authority, laws and enactments and judicial or quasi-judicial functions will inevitably be relegated to the coming matrix. To put a constitutional and administrative flavour to this, we are headed for the age of AAI: Arbitrary artificial intelligence.

What impact will this have on our valued precepts such as the rule of law, rights and freedoms, natural justice and fairness? What use will algorithms have for the studied musings of Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke or even Bora Laskin? And what is to become of us poor subjects of the new singular, legal order?

The rampage of COVID-19, in physical and psychological terms, has only just begun to manifest itself on our abilities, as subjects of the state, legislators and judicial decision makers, to cope with the massive and immediate needs to enact laws and regulations and to enforce them. Capacity of assembly in homes, restaurants, schools, outdoors, indoor commercial areas and so on change from day to day and back and forth with a frantic quality. Rules, requirements and regulations fly at us like a locust storm. How does this constant upheaval impact respect for law and authority and trust in the laws and enactments of our governments?

We all have heard over these last months the exasperated comments of confusion and despair in our own circles. What a ripe moment for the Singularity.

Well, there are things we can do. Particularly legislators, lawyers and decision makers. We can start with the proposition that we already are in a state of affairs where no one individual can handle the stress and degree of technical knowledge necessary to adapt to everyday living in the Future Shock world we live in. Once we recognize this, the question becomes how can we strengthen our laws that protect and empower individuals from arbitrary authority whether it is human or artificial.

We can start by bolstering consumer protection legislation to have real teeth with government-appointed champions of individual rights and vulnerability, economic and otherwise, to our complicated techno-corporate society. A director of consumer protection and department is needed with proper funding, whose sole function is to monitor corporate interaction with consumers from invoicing practices, automatic service and pricing changes, to restrictions on services and with strong powers to correct and reverse unwanted activity, penalize wrongdoers and compensate consumers. Cable and communication services, banking and insurance services, to retail activity all have to come under the umbrella of an active governmental agency whose mandate is to be the vanguard to future shock and to be our guardians and champions.

The administration of justice falls into disrepute if we feel helpless and powerless to the dramatic forces that abound particularly if individuals do not have the financial, time or intellectual resources to deal with Singularity. These days, access to justice needs to apply to more than just the courts. It requires governments to be cognizant and vigilant in the protection and empowerment of individuals in the face of arbitrary laws and regulations whether human or artificial. Without respect for our laws and authority, without a sense that we all are treated fairly, our society will break down and we will have more on our hands than a virus.

Jerry Levitan is a Toronto lawyer who practised litigation, administrative and liquor licensing law. He as well is the producer of the Academy Award nominated and Emmy winning short animated film I Met The Walrus about the day he spent at age 14 with John Lennon and author of the Canadian bestselling book with the same title.

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