Albert Einstein once stated that 'imagination is more important than knowledge'. I would agree with this, but with the addendum that structured imagination is more relevant than an 'abandoned display' of imagination. Studies which are arranged in a definite pattern might contain the premise(s) from which a conclusion may logically be derived, correctly inferred and challenged at cutting edge conferences, such as BILETA (British and Irish Law Education and Technology Association). The University of Aberdeen, School of Law hosted the annual BILETA conference on Tuesday 10th to Wednesday 11th April 2018 and convened scholars and professionals from diverse fields - law, technology, business, education and others.
As a first-timer at this year’s event, I found BILETA 2018 delivered more than I expected: keynote speeches, action-packed presentations, two prize opportunities (Taylor & Francis and Google) and a delightful dinner enveloped in the aroma of Scotch malt whisky & country dances.
Organised in one of the grandest university settings in the world and around the theme “Digital Futures: Places and People, Technology and Data”, this year’s event enabled academics to engage in creative dialogue around a shared commitment to considering jointly issues associated with the new technology affecting different areas of law, and then developing strategic directions. BILETA 2018 pondered the big questions relating to data protection & privacy, education, crime & security, intellectual property, and technology & regulation. In addition, it delivered two captivating keynote speeches: Professor Daithí Mac Síthigh (Queen’s University Belfast), the Day 1 keynote speaker, entertained his audience with a profound and fun-filled look at Tech law and techlash. It was a pleasant reminder that fun and passion are important ingredients for legal conferences and their programmes. (The first speech can be accessed here)
The Day 2 keynote speaker, Professor Margaret Ross (University of Aberdeen), was elaborating on a measurable, both negative and positive impacts of the new technology on the development and adaptation of the human brain, resulting in significant changes in student concentration, learning and memory.
Her speech served as a powerful wake-up call to advocate for recognising law not as a set of rules, but as a method and technique for harmonizing social and educational activities with emerging technologies. As argued by Professor Margaret Ross, students and academic staff recognise that the emerging technologies bring challenges to the mental health and wellbeing but also a wealth of opportunities. The advantages, among many others, have been recognised as improved ability to cope with work overload, reduce the co-dependency with academic staff and improve the prioritisation skills. The prevailing lack of evidence with regards to the impact the new technology has on students learning, on the concept of “university education,” on socialisation and skill for future work also, was underlined in this powerful speech, which can be accessed here.
Both these highly inspiring presentations laid the foundation from which another question emerged how the new technology might affect learning in relation to recording and storing lectures for higher education. In later discussions, it was argued that to realise fully the benefits and comply with the law, educational institutions must consider the rights of all relevant parties including students, lecturers, other staff and external parties, whose creativity, work and participation may be part of an audio or video recording. BILETA 2018 also offered an opportunity to be inspired by a wealth of diverse projects. I saw some stunning posters and listened to some fascinating oral presentations, as well as having the opportunity to share my research at one of the parallel sessions. These sessions were a highlight for me given my research interests, involving intellectual property and artificial intelligence. I found them truly enlightening and enriching for my perspective of aspects of my research which I had hitherto not considered. There were insights into the perceived opportunities and risks that new technology will present, when uncontrolled and unregulated, in the hands of a few increasingly powerful corporations (e.g. Facebook), at the expense of security, intellectual property and privacy. As argued by the presenters, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when considering how powerful artificial persons and their actions will affect different areas of law, and how – in today’s landscape – the fundamental legal rights of natural persons will be affected.
Furthermore, it was fascinating to me to discover that the aim of the Scottish Government is to develop a common public sector approach to online identity assurance. Gavin Ross, who was representing the Scottish Government at the event, was seeking feedback and views on the content of the Governmental Plan, as the Scottish Government continues shaping the programme over the coming weeks and months. There was also the chance to look beyond the laws of the United Kingdom, with participants from territories across the globe, such as Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey. I was privileged to represent the University of Aberdeen’s School of Law.
Heading out onto the streets of Aberdeen, I was reminded of the power of collaborative thinking when it comes to the new technology that challenges many of the traditional assumptions about both domestic and international laws. BILETA 2018 was a fast-moving and extremely well-organised two days of thought-provoking engagement with so much forward-thinking and creativity on display. The event identified many challenges: it will be interesting to see how legal minds rise to the occasion.
I am looking forward not only to attending BILETA 2019 in Belfast, but also to presenting and/or moderating a session, if they will have me!