Temporary Laws

Elon Musk was recently asked at a talk in Germany how would you use your first principles framework to redesign society? His answer was

  1. Direct democracy > representative democracy esp. with development of fast communication (e.g. the internet) and this should help diminish the affect of special interests.
  2. Laws have an infinite lifetime and an inertial effect – to counter this laws would automatically expire unless they are revoted as correct.
  3. Have a hysteresis where you require 60% but at any point 40% or more can remove the law.

He argues that this measures will lead to a system that better represents the true will of the people.

From my perspective, I think that direct democracy would be (as Elon concedes) a bit of anarchy and personally I believe in quite a paternalistic role for government. However his ideas of temporary laws I think solves a very interesting problem that the law increasingly faces which is that the time when clear laws are most valuable, which is the dawn of new technologies and industries lawyers are least willing to write laws because it is unclear how things are going to turn out.

This leads to one of two outcomes both of which are negative. The first is that the technology develops in vacuum of regulation and legal framework and only once the technologies are fully formed and the markets are developed to lawyers come in to clean up the mess. The second possibility is, I would argue, even worse which is that without the legal clarity the technological progress doesn’t occur at all because entrepreneurs and investors need some assurances that they will be protected when inevitably there are mistakes and people get hurt.

Yesterday I went, with a friend, to a very interesting LSE law lectureabout how to create laws with the rise of artificial intelligence and potentially sentient machines. The speaker Professor Andrew Murray argued that lawyers should have a seat at the table from the beginning. Obviously commercial lawyers would be too expensive but academic lawyers should look to create formal channels through which to have a dialogue with entrepreneurs and technologists. In my own small way, have faced these same problems where my startup – which relates to a new type of loan – faces a vacuum of legal regulation. This makes it is extremely difficult to raise money from investors because it is impossible for us to answer even basic questions like ‘is this legal?’ We have had the good fortune of talking with many prominent academic lawyers in the field but they too are at pains to stress that they cannot guarantee what the future laws will be and therefore can provide no assurances one way or the other. The result is as I have suggested above 1) we give up or 2) we continue but with an absence of legal guidance.

The obvious solution is that academic lawyers should be able to assemble small teams of experts who for all the niche and developing technologies and markets write into law temporary laws and regulations (perhaps lasting just 5-10 years). This would force academics to transition from the sometimes ‘academic’ papers they write and wrestle with the real, practical trade-offs and come to the best consensus that they can but at the same time create sufficient legal certainty to allow entrepreneurs and technologists to continue. Crucially though this academic lawyers should not be optimizing for the long-term safety or protection of consumers but rather the safe development of the industry or technology.

I would argue that the enactment of laws and the speed at which laws are put into place need to be thoroughly reconsidered. We seem to be moving into a society where the pace of change is ever increasing and if we are not careful we may find that where society needs the law the most the law is conspicuously absent.