Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What is law? - Part 1

Just about seven years ago now, I embarked on a series of blog posts concerning the nature of legislatures/parliaments. Back then, my goal was to outline a conceptual model of what goes on inside a legislature/parliament in order to inform the architecture of computer systems to support their operation.

The goal of this series of posts is to outline a conceptual model of what law actually is and how it works when it gets outside of the legislatures/parliaments and is used in the world at large.

I think now is a good time to do this because there is growing interest around automation "downstream" of the legislative bodies. One example is GRC - Governance, Risk & Compliance and all the issues that surround taking legislation/rules/regulations/guidance and instantiating it inside computer systems. Another example is Smart Contracts  - turning legal language into executable computer code. Another example is Chatbots such as DoNotPay which encode/interpret legal material in a "consultation" mode with the aid of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing. Another example is TurboTax and programs like it which have become de-facto sources of interpretation of legal language in the tax field.

There are numerous other fascinating areas where automation is having a big impact in the world of law. Everything from predicting litigation costs to automating discovery to automating contract assembly. I propose to skip over these for now, and just concentrate on a single question which is this:
      If a virtual "box" existed that could be asked questions about legality of an action X, at some time T, what would need to be inside that box in order for it to reflect the real world equivalent of asking a human authority the same question?
If this thought experiment reminds you of John Searle's Chinese Room Argument then good:-) We are going to go inside that box. We are taking with us Nicklaus Wirth's famous aphorism that Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs. We will need a mix of computation (algorithmics) and data structures but let us start with the data sources because it is easiest of two.

What data (and thus data structures) do we need to have inside the box? That is the subject of the next post in this series.

What is law? - Part 2.


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