By Jasmeen Sharma
The crash of the housing bubble in the 2008 Financial Crisis led to the birth of a new world, the emergence of the Tech Industry. Since then, we have seen a world where tech companies emerged to be the new market leaders. This led to the implementation of AI in industries, society, and our daily lives like never seen before. AI became incorporated into factories for industrial use and increased automation. The rise of smartphones and social media also led to more complex algorithms and data being used and collected on an unprecedented scale. This rise of AI led to tasks being completed more efficiently, saving time. Society became accustomed to collecting information and finishing its jobs with a push of a button.
However, as AI grew, our understanding and thinking as a society began to evolve and with that, it brought heightened awareness to consumers on the value of data and how, in a more connected world that is seemingly more convenient, our Article 8 rights to privacy were in danger of being infringed. This led to mistrust of tech companies and an increasing fear of the black box problem (where we do not understand why AI completes a certain task as we cannot comprehend the algorithm it uses) began to grow as machines started learning faster than we could understand them. Governments tried to regulate AI by imposing more data responsibility on corporations and educating the
public on data protection and their rights via public forums with tech companies. The general public now wanted to know how technology is used and how their data is stored and used. Attempts to regulate AI were seen via GDPR and the Data Protection Act which came into effect in 2018, although its effects have been slow to materialise.
Then came March 2020, the Coronavirus Pandemic which started in Wuhan, China spread to the rest of the world and Europe became its most visible epicenter. Suddenly, people all over Europe went into lockdown and in that time the reliance on AI grew. The debates around AI regulation and scrutiny of tech companies were put on hold as limited human contact caused a greater reliance on apps and machines to carry out everyday tasks. In the UK, restaurants were closed and food delivery apps took their places, in hospitals machines helped sanitise high contact areas and, as workplaces closed, industries who were initially slow and apprehensive of adopting AI (like the legal industry) went digital and working from home became the norm across all sectors. Even legal proceedings were now being done online. Across industries there was an introduction of apps in all aspects of life; digital queueing for delivery, apps for collection points for purchasing appliances, digital medical consultations, and the NHS responder app to help connect volunteers to the vulnerable. Technology became such a necessity in these times that even the old and the vulnerable had to rely on it to get help. In these times of crisis, technology grew more rapidly in a period of two months than ever imaginable a few months beforehand. Data was being collected on an unprecedented
scale by companies as consumers began to shop solely online and use food delivery apps and all registration of personal information was being done online. Even from the NHS responder app, information was being collected in vast amounts. Society no longer questioned how their data was used and they no longer thought about protecting it as they believed that it was a reasonable trade-off to have their needs fulfilled.
The penetration of AI in the medical industry has heightened this belief, we see that AI was and still is at the forefront in helping us combat the pandemic as increased research is being conducted in reliance on AI to search for a vaccine. Companies like Insilico Medicine are repurposing AI platforms to find a vaccine and use AI to look at 3D models of the virus to understand its molecular structure to find a vaccine. AI is also used in the production of thermal cameras to inspect body temperatures. The pandemic and a fear of human contact have also led to robotics being more accessible as we can see the use of robots to sanitise hospitals and workplaces. The increased adoption of AI in all industries proves that as AI becomes increasingly embraced, it will continue to grow in a
post-Covid world and businesses will innovate further.
However, our new alliance with AI does not mean that consumers have forgotten about their initial fears over its power. The growing use of AI signifies the importance for new regulations to be implemented to ensure that, as companies begin to understand consumers better through the data they have collected, the consumers are still protected. The tremendous insight that companies now have into our lives means that now more than ever, data protection is of utmost importance and companies now have an even higher responsibility for how they use consumer data to avoid it being mismanaged or breaching data protection laws. The materialisation of existing data protection laws like GDPR is crucial.
So, what does this post-Covid world mean for a potential lawyer? The pandemic has created new revenue streams in law. Practice areas in the law that will emerge include Employment law as social distancing rules mean that the work environment will change and that new guidelines will need to be in place to help employers restructure their workplace according to new regulations. Data Protection law will also be an area of law sought after by many as the security of tracing apps and the transparency of consumer-used apps, among others, are called into action, and accountability is brought into
question. Commercial law will also see an increase in cases involving insolvency and financial restructuring as businesses close and struggle to revamp their corporate structure to stay afloat.
The changes in the workplace in a post-Covid world and the increased digitalisation of the legal industry mean that new graduates need to be more agile and tech-savvy as the pandemic has led the legal industry to realise that working from home and using platforms like Zoom and Teams are as efficient as being in an office. Interlocutory documents for litigation and arbitration also appear to be more effective when submitted online causing the face of the legal industry to become increasingly more virtual and face to face interactions fading away. Thus, future trainees need to learn to adapt to this new way of working. The benefits of this increasingly digitalised world could be increased diversity in the workplace as screening methods on applications become fully automated and computer algorithms would eliminate potential bias. The
working-from-home culture also encourages female retention in the legal field and even more women to enter legal jobs as they no longer need to contemplate whether to stay at home with children or to pursue a more demanding career, thus leading to more diversity and inclusivity in Law.