They say there is a grain of truth in every joke. Ten years ago, the movie Man of the Year was released, and in it Tom Dobbs, Robin Williams’s character, joked: “Soon, all of your appliances will speak to each other. You’ll get on the scale and it’ll go, ‘I’ve talked to the microwave; forget it, pal.’” A decade later, that statement is nothing but the truth. Well, maybe, we could still possibly find a grain of joke in it.
Nowadays, our devices communicate with each other about us, we talk to them, and they sometimes talk back to us. Let’s remember the fairly recent delight across social networks about Apple’s Siri’s sarcastic responses to, let’s call them, ‘tricky’ questions like: “What is 0÷0?”; or Microsoft’s less delightful experiment with its AI chatterbot Tay. Moreover, those who are unenthusiastic would say our devices – even our clothes – are spying on us or are even out to get us. Have you noticed the ‘nice and practical’ ads that start appearing in your social media feed once you search for a certain product online or visit a certain website? Have you heard of autonomous cars? What happens if such a car is faced with the dilemma of whom to injure in a critical situation – its passengers or a jaywalking pedestrian? I still remember the day I first heard of and had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of 3D printing. Today, articles about 3D bio-printing human tissue fascinate almost no one. While the enthusiasts can hardly wait for the day when 3D printers enter mass production and our households, those reticent about the idea point out the ways in which the technology can be abused. Smart clothing and so-called “wearables” are nothing new, and the technology goes further. Around the same time Google Glass was released on the market and shortly thereafter withdrawn from production, Google filed another interesting patent application for an intra-ocular device, an electronic lens that could be injected into an eyeball to improve vision.
All of the above and many other issues raised by the recent technology boom have not only their scientific, technical, social, and ethical, but also legal repercussions. It is a hackneyed fact that the law lags behind technology advances and human creativity. Actually, the moment I wrote the words “human creativity,” I stopped to think if there was any other kind of creativity. Apparently, there may be. Recently, I came across an article about an AI project that creates artificial reconstructions of films.
Obviously, examples of exciting technology are endless as new inventions and creations emerge rapidly. New technology requires new business models of exploitation. Thus, the creative world is faced with the cold hard realities of business, and eventually creativity and business encounter the realm of law. Many of the abovementioned examples raise numerous legal concerns, starting with safety and privacy and ending with intellectual property issues.
Since stopping innovation does not seem to be a realistic or sensible option, the question is how the law can address the specifics of emerging technologies and pertinent models of their commercialization. It appears to me that one of the key factors is flexibility. Although generally the law is more conservative than the areas it regulates, especially such propulsive ones as these new technologies, intellectual property law, media law, information technology law, and other legal fields that are evolving along with the pertinent areas of human creativity, innovation, and activity demonstrate greater elasticity. Sophisticated interpretation and application of existing law is the instrument for approaching the novel challenges posed by advances in science and technology. As a result, the law improves, develops, evolves. Further, in the era of globalization, the worldwide harmonization of law in these legal fields is another key factor that serves to facilitate the interaction between the ever-changing nature of our world and the lagging law. Intellectual property, media, and technology are innately global in terms of their application and exploitation. Therefore, the laws regulating those areas must provide for at least a common set of standards uniformly applied worldwide. Speaking from a Croatian perspective – Croatia being a rather small market rich in talent and innovation, still striving to overcome many of the drawbacks of the transition – I must emphasize the importance of efficient and consistent law enforcement. I suppose the bottom line is that legal professionals must embrace innovation not only as the object of their professional endeavors but also as an indispensable attribute of their occupation.
By Olena Manuilenko, Head of IP & TMT Department, Divjak Topic Bahtijarevic
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.3 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.