Smart Technologies and the End(s) of Law

Smart Technologies and the End(s) of Law

Novel Entanglements of Law and Technology

Mireille Hildebrandt

This timely book tells the story of the smart technologies that reconstruct our world, by provoking their most salient functionality: the prediction and preemption of our day-to-day activities, preferences, health and credit risks, criminal intent and spending capacity. Mireille Hildebrandt claims that we are in transit between an information society and a data-driven society, which has far reaching consequences for the world we depend on. She highlights how the pervasive employment of machine-learning technologies that inform so-called ‘data-driven agency’ threaten privacy, identity, autonomy, non-discrimination, due process and the presumption of innocence. The author argues how smart technologies undermine, reconfigure and overrule the ends of the law in a constitutional democracy, jeopardizing law as an instrument of justice, legal certainty and the public good. Finally, the book calls on lawyers, computer scientists and civil society not to reject smart technologies, explaining how further engaging these technologies may help to reinvent the effective protection of the rule of law.

Chapter 3: The onlife world

Mireille Hildebrandt

Subjects: law - academic, internet and technology law, legal philosophy


On 7 March 2014 the fifth annual National Day of Unplugging took place. In a blog post in The New Yorker, we read that ‘[t]he aim of the event, organized by the non-profit Reboot, is “to help hyperconnected people of all backgrounds to embrace the ancient ritual of a day of rest”…. participants abstained from using technology, unplugging themselves from their phones and tablets, computers and televisions’. As the blog post notes, the reasons people give for unplugging, vary from ‘to be in the moment’ to ‘to be more connected’; the author observes an underlying anxiety about reconnecting with the ‘real’ world around us. He continues: ‘[a]nd yet the “real” world, like the “real” America, is an insidious idea. It suggests that the selves we are online aren’t authentic, and that the relationships that we forge in digital spaces aren’t meaningful’. The blog post than takes an intriguing turn by quoting Pope Benedict XVI sharing his thoughts on social networks: ‘it is not only ideas and information that are shared but, ultimately, our very selves’. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Pope argued, the digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. During 2011 and 2012 I took part in a philosophical exercise conducted by a group of philosophers, scholars of artificial intelligence and social scientists that resulted in a Manifesto on what it means to be human in the digital world.

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