Continuum: political with a possible guide to future tech

Continuum is a Canadian sci-fi series about time travel. It discusses possible futures which have evolved from various political/tech industry situations. For instance, what if a Mark Zuckerberg-ish character did end up running the world? What would that be like and what if he had regrets about how he got there and who he was?

A brief summary of the story features a young police officer (in a world where police work for corporations) called Kiera and a rebellion group called Liber8 in 2077. Liber8 in Kiera’s time are terrorists who are fighting for a world not run by corporations such as the one owned by Alec Sadler (who runs a tech company which essentially controls politics). Before they are punished for thier crimes they initiate a time travel device to send them and Kiera back to present day where Kiera meets a 17 year old Alec Sadler who she tries to keep on the right track and joins a local police force to help them fight against Liber8. However, as more is revealed about what Kiera’s future really entails, Kiera’s ideals are blurred and she doubts whether a world run my mega-corporations is the one she should be fighting for.

Not only was this an awesome plot, I think it is interesting to note what the writers thought the future of technology looked like in 2077.

Kiera’s gear

Keira arrives in the present day with standard issue police suit. This is fully bullet proof with a built in smartphone-esc device. It can can change colour and allow her to go invisible. She also had chips implanted in her head which make holding a phone or attatching a Bluetooth device to speak on the phone a thing of the past. Her eyes automatically record everything she sees which in her present day is used for evidence. She can also create a hologram anactment of almost any crime scene.

Tangible money is a thing of the past

This is already something that there is less and less of in the real world. It is not an unbelievable portrayal of a future world that people can automatically add or deduct credits.

Citizenship chips

Not a nice thought but not an unbelievable concept…

Conclusion

Continuum gives an interesting ideas in to what the world might look like if it was taken over by Silicon Valley giants. It also gives an interesting and not inconcievable view of the future of tech. I would recommend this series to anyone who like Sci-Fi with good political plotlines!

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Fashionable words series: Disruptive

My thoughts on the word Disruptive vs Enhanced

Some thoughts on the meaning and implications of the word “disruptive”.

Night Skyline Zoom Burst 1” (CC BY 2.0) by sagriffin305

What does disruptive really mean any more? As an aspiring technology lawyer, I read a lot about “disruptive” technology. At first, this term surprised me. I found myself wondering why was new technology disruptive. Why was it not innovative, a game-changer?

I had always thought of the word “disruptive” to be an unwelcome event, such a disruptive class or a disrupted night’s sleep. I thought that technology did not disrupt me, it aided my work and I was glad I could have it at my disposal. New technology for me has always been exciting, and enhancing. Disruptive implied, to me, some kind of unwelcome interruption.

The dictionary definition of “disrupt” includes:

  1. To cause disorder or turmoil:
  2. To destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance of unity of; interrupt;
  3. To break apart
  4. Business: to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.), asby introducing a new product or service that creates a new market.

(courtesy of dictionary.com)

The business definition is often in a positive light in order to portray new innovations. A new method or machine which will make our life, better, easier, quicker, more efficient etc.

However, some people really are disrupted by technology. For example, the person who always received their bank statements in the post now has to go download them, or the person whose job it was to package chocolate is now superseded by a machine which does this ten times faster. For them, technology is disruptive.

Conversely think of innovations for green energy, new medicines and prosthetic limbs. Think of how easy it is to check an email, see how many steps you have walked or have a face to face conversation with someone halfway across the globe. This is not disruptive. It is enhancing.

In general, I love new technology. I see that it aids life in the modern world and makes it more efficient and exciting than I ever would have imagined 10 years ago. I am not disrupted. My life is enhanced.

The Law and “The Greater Good”

Utilitarianism

The easiest way I can describe this is “the greater good”. Think of Hot Fuzz and you will know exactly where this post is going.

hotfuzzgreatergood

Utilitarianism, which I learnt about in my undergraduate degree of philosophy is a consequentialist theory (famously advocated by the philosopher John Stuart Mill). As the name suggests, utilitarianism is all about acts which have the result (as appose to the intention such as ethical theories like virtue ethics) of creating the most utility. Broadly speaking, utility can be defined as the most happiness. However there are different types of utility, as there are different types of happiness. For example, eating ice cream makes me happier, but securing that elusive training contract which is going to contribute heavily to my career has a far greater utility function than ice-cream. So what does this have to do with the law?

The Law and Utilitarianism

There are various cases in which the law and the theory of utilitarianism seem to go hand in hand. Take for example, tort cases with the police such as Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989]. The Police do not owe a general duty of case to the individual but to society as a whole. The policy reasons for this decision was clear the argument that if the police owed a duty of care to the individual then they would not be flooded with claims and therefore not be able to do their duty to society, and therefore they would not be able to do their job for “the greater good”.

The police in Hot Fuzz having time for those important police tasks
The police in Hot Fuzz having time for those important police tasks

 

However, this case also reveals the greatest problem for the utilitarianism. Whilst in principle the theory seems logical, it can lead to huge injustices for the individual or small groups of individuals.

A good example where a utilitarianistic approach in the law can also lead to injustices to the individual would be in the area of human rights. More specifically, qualified human rights. People are entitled to their human rights prescribed by the Human Rights Act 1998 such as Article 8 Right to respect for private and family life. They are rights, unless there is a prescribed law in the UK which means that these rights can be breached when it is

necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, public safety and the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

In other words… THE GREATER GOOD!

There are in short, a lot of headings here in which a qualified right can be apparently justifiably breached in the UK and therefore the rights of that individual will be breached if the reason for doing so can be said to fall under any of these headings and is prescribed by law.

Another Problem for Utilitarianism

There is an argument put forward by Elizabeth Anscombe that there is sometimes no justification for actions in the name of utilitarianism. Even if the act creates greater utility and happiness after it, there is absolutely no justification in the acts which were used to create that utility and therefore it basically renders to utility function useless. The example given was of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The bombings arguably cut the war short and therefore for this reason killing thousands, lead to thousands more having their lives saved. However she argued that there were some moral rules that were absolute and therefore doing them for the “greater good” is not a sufficient argument, “some things may not be done, no matter what”.

The UK Law and Absolute Rules

Luckily, the UK law does seem to recognise some rules as absolute. For example, absolute human rights are not subject to the same exceptions as qualified ones, there are some that are even subject to absolutely no exceptions, such as Article 3 the prohibition of torture.

It is however still a problem for qualified rights and whilst there is a distinction between absolute and qualified rights, this distinction may not be one that everyone will agree with and some may still view that the rights that have exemptions prescribed to them should not have those specific exceptions.

Fortunately, where this has been disputed the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has proven to be an excellent safeguard. Take the decision in S and Marper v UK. The argument was that the police could not retain DNA and fingerprints indefinitely. There were arguments to show that the more DNA and fingerprints sample the police had on record, the more beneficial it was for the police in the prevention of crime. Those who had those fingerprints detained had been acquitted of an offence and argued that to hold their samples indefinitely was a breach of their Article 8 rights to respect for private and family life. The House of Lords decided that the police could hold the DNA sample and fingerprints and that this did fall within one of the exceptions of the qualified right. The ECtHR disagreed, and said that the retention was disproportionate; a win for the individual.

Other Areas where Utilitarian Approach is taken in Law

Whilst at least the areas of human rights seem to be safeguarded, there are other areas of the UK law which arguably have gone too far on being based on utilitarian principles. The rules of pure psychiatric harm in tort are a good example of this. Most of this developed out of the Hillsborough disaster and therefore the judges had to contend with a lot of policy reasons at the time. For example, in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, it wouldn’t be fair for the police who were at the event to be given preferential treatment in their claims when the friends and families of the victims were subject to stringent criteria. Arguably by allowing the police’s claims this would have created too much negative utility and therefore it was still a decision taken in the argument of fairness for the greater good.

This has however created very stringent criteria for rescuers for meet when making a claim in pure psychiatric harm if they were not actually in danger themselves (and therefore a secondary victim).

Conclusion

IT is understandable why the law has ended up so utilitarian. Judges are given tough choices and they know that what they say (if they are in a higher court) will be relied upon and followed and therefore they must not only have the individual who is in front of them on their mind, but any other individual which may emerge in the future which has attached to them a similar set of circumstances.

However, whilst we have some safeguards from this theory going too far in the law in the area of human rights, there is evidence to suggest that the individual will not always be protected by the law due to decisions which keep “the greater good” in mind.