When Windows was introduced, I told Dr. S.J. that it was the death of understanding. Before Windows, a computer user needed to know DOS commands or he couldn’t make the box work. By knowing DOS commands, typed in carefully at the C prompt because an errant letter meant the computer either wouldn’t have a clue what you wanted or would do something entirely undesired, like launch thermonuclear war, you had a basic understanding of how computers functioned.
But when a double click on an icon was all that was required, anybody could use a computer. Click on the pretty picture and, boom, you too were a computer user. It changed everything. On the bright side, it created a world where computers became central to our existence. On the dark side, any idiot could use one, despite having no comprehension of how it happened.
A conference just ended in Silicon Valley called Reinvent Law. A bunch of people who share a remarkably uncritical view of the power and influence of technology took the stage in order, with the hallelujah chorus singing behind them. Not really singing, but a digital version created without a single human voice. They are believers talking to other believers, and like the people who applauded the introduction of Windows and the demise of DOS, they propose a panacea where no one need know anything ever again.
They will vehemently deny this because they believe that what they are doing is good and true, and that they are motivated by the best of intentions. There was a talk of Google cars, the ones that drive themselves without any need for a person to steer or break. Once perfected, I have no doubt it will drive better, safer, than any person possibly could. And it will spell the death of human driving, a risk society will no longer accept. Yet another human activity that will not only become unnecessary, but unacceptable.
The Reinvent Law conference offered the insight that 58% of judges have an iPad. The final presentation was about the paperless office, the one we started talking about in 1993. They still think they’ve discovered the death of billable hours, and believe that law can be reduced to algorithms. Point and click law.
There are big issues and small issues. The advent of computers was big. Big beyond our wildest imagination. The introduction of Google cars will be big too. Huge.
Most of the rest is rather puny, more tweaking around the edges than game-changing.
But what isn’t puny, yet isn’t recognized, is how any of this makes the law work the way the platitudes say it works. There are ideas that will deliver mediocre legal services to those unable to afford it now. Windows for the under-represented. And when they go to court to vindicate their rights, they will still see judges sitting on benches. The judges will have iPads, but they won’t be any less biased. They won’t be any smarter. They won’t rule by algorithm. And the under-represented will still lose.
The fear is that much of what is being promoted as the future of law will actually come to pass. We will have those paperless offices where we sell virtual legal services unbundled like the widgets they can be. And the prisons will still be filled with people whose computer programs told them they should be free.
It’s not that the people involved in all of this aren’t smart. Indeed, these are some very smart, very dedicated people, but they don’t see the law. Dreams of technological change may be very exciting, but to what end?
Marketing guru Seth Godin fortuitously posted this today :
When I was starting out in the software business in 1983 (gasp), our home computer of choice was the Commodore 64. I vividly remember one day in the playtesting lab when the overworked floppy disk drive burst into flames. The surprising thing was that none of us were surprised. The entire infrastructure of the time just barely worked.
Twelve years later, on a sales call at Levi’s ad agency in San Francisco, in the middle of a presentation, my PC laptop started spewing smoke. I didn’t miss a beat. I shrugged, closed the cover and dropped it into a trash can.
Today, nothing is starting on fire. Today, a well-designed app looks fabulous, polished and stable, even though it was built by one person, in a garage. Today, email gets through. Today, we have a platform that (almost always) does what it says it will. We’re all on the same OS (the internet). We can expect that any person we’d like to do business with, anywhere in the world, has a device we can use to reliably communicate with them…
If you’ve been waiting for the next big thing before you dive in, it’s here.
For all our miraculous advancement, we end up with such a puny outcome as this, twitted by baby lawprof Josh Blackman:
That’s the glorious future of the reinvented law.