News & Views

Tech is All Around: Hot Topics and Notes on the Future

17 September 2018

Authors: Sini Matkonen and Emma Swahne

Almost everyone is presumed to understand technology these days. Recent technology conversations have been focused on the phenomena that are predicted to revolutionise the way of doing business: blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and platform economy, to name a few.

Blockchain is speculated to have the same impact as the Internet back in the days. Applications and potential of blockchain go far beyond digital currencies for which it was created. Blockchain may be used to record and confirm any transactions of value that are considered secure and immutable once verified. The system stores data across its peer-to-peer network, and the verified data is disseminated across the computers (‘nodes’) that maintain and operate the network.  The financial and banking sector is a prominent example of where the transparency and inalterability of blockchain are attractive features. Blockchain technology is already used to reform clearing, settling, and payment systems, and it may be used in identity verification regarding banks’ know-your-customer obligationsHowever, the applicability of blockchain should not be narrowed down to one industry. Blockchain is also used in the marketing sector to verify ad delivery, confirm contracts, and tackle counterfeits with validated supply chains. Further applications of blockchain are found, for example, in the music, insurance, and healthcare industry. The public sector is not missing out either – in April, the EU launched a partnership aiming to base all public services on blockchain in the future. Furthermore, the legal industry may deploy blockchain by providing legal services on blockchain-based smart contracts that can automatically trigger contractual penalty when needed. Dispute resolution can also be blockchain-based in the future, and registering all kinds of rights and public records could be done by coding into the blockchain for independent and reliable functioning. Ultimately, the lawyers with expertise to guide clients with their own deployment of blockchain technologies will be sought after.

Innovating AI technologies are also making an irreversible difference by carrying out tasks that traditionally require human-like intelligence. Consumers may use personal assistants in smart devices that are capable of voice interaction and get movie recommendations on over-the-top media services or shopping tips on e-stores based on the analysis of their acting patterns by predictive AI technology. Additionally, new technologies allow people to negotiate better deals online by bidding on one’s behalf at the last moment or by analysing and suggesting mutually beneficial outcomes for negotiating parties. AI also has considerable potential in healthcare, assisting doctors in making diagnoses and predictions. To some extent, healthcare already employs algorithmic solutions that use medical record data to generate treatment recommendations, but there are high hopes for the future. Similarly, the banking sector is introducing robotics and AI software to its decision-making and customer correspondence. As for legal industry, a mere AI based chatbot that helps people contest parking tickets does lead to a decreasing need for lawyers, but on a larger scale, new technologies may change the profession. However, AI benefits lawyers too by being capable of conducting traditional time and money consuming tasks, such as reviewing and standardizing documents. Furthermore, legal outcomes can be predicted, and certain processes, such as divorce or due diligence, can be automated. Such applications and software have been created, but only time will tell how broadly and for which purposes they will be adopted.

Our current society is defined by online platforms, as economic, social, and other human activities are conducted on online structures and digital frameworks. Consumers search for goods and services on an on-demand basis instead of, for example, contacting individual airlines when desiring to go on a holiday. People turn to online platforms like Google, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, Alibaba, and Airbnb that act as intermediaries connecting supply to demand in a swift way. A similarly intermediated contact between customers and services could prove pertinent also with respect to legal services. An extreme example supporting this claim is from the USA, where the legal industry is simultaneously characterized as being over-priced for many Americans and having a significant amount of legal professionals with trouble finding work. Here, the benefits of better consumer access to legal services is evident. Platforms could consolidate lower-tier legal services and provide legal professionals with a more steady workflow. The phenomenon includes service providers who pool together lawyers on user-friendly online platforms. Therefore, ultimately a legal platform economy is not merely advanced methods of seeking the services of established law firms. It can even go as far as reinventing law firms as online legal service portals.

With all emerging technology, it is appropriate to keep an eye on the possible problems. Ultimately, it seems that innovations give rise to ethical and legal questions, of which the legal profession must take notice. For example, how can a data subject exercise their right to erasure in a blockchain-based system when transactions on a blockchain are usually inalterable? Artificial intelligence may likewise lead to ethical issues if achieving best negotiation outcomes with AI negotiation technology depends on the ownership of the best and expensive technology. As regards online platforms, attention should be paid to how these intermediaries bring service providers in contact with potential customers, as the way of displaying traders in search results affects the possibilities of smaller traders to acquire customers. With this in mind, the EU is drafting a regulation regarding transparency and fairness for online platforms. However, the issues should not hinder the technological developments described above. These issues and questions should be observed in order to deploy and make use of the technologies in the most efficient, fair, and beneficial manner – in all industries, legal included.