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Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi


Adam Alonzi

From the beginning Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, contends in his new paper “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” that software, given its brittleness, is not designed to deal with the complexities of taking a case through court and establishing a verdict. As he understands it, an AI cannot deviate far from the rules laid down by its creator. This assumption, which is not even quite right at the present time, only slightly tinges an otherwise erudite, sincere, and balanced coverage of the topic. He does not show much faith in the use of past cases to create datasets for the next generation of paralegals, automated legal services, and, in the more distant future, lawyers and jurists.

Lawrence Zelanik has noted that when taxes were filed entirely on paper, provisions were limited to avoid unreasonably imposing irksome nuances on the average person. Tax-return software has eliminated this “complexity constraint.” He goes on to state that without this the laws, and the software that interprets it, are akin to a “black box” for those who must abide by them. William Gale has said taxes could be easily computed for “non-itemizers.” In other words, the government could use information it already has to present a “bill” to this class of taxpayers, saving time and money for all parties involved. However, simplification does not always align with everyone’s interests. TurboTax’s business, which is built entirely on helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinth is the American federal income tax, noticed a threat to its business model. This prompted it to put together a grassroots campaign to fight such measures. More than just another example of a business protecting its interests, it is an ominous foreshadowing of an escalation scenario that will transpire in many areas if and when legal AI becomes sufficiently advanced.  

Pasquale writes: “Technologists cannot assume that computational solutions to one problem will not affect the scope and nature of that problem. Instead, as technology enters fields, problems change, as various parties seek to either entrench or disrupt aspects of the present situation for their own advantage.”

What he is referring to here, in everything but name, is an arms race. The vastly superior computational powers of robot lawyers may make the already perverse incentive to make ever more Byzantine rules ever more attractive to bureaucracies and lawyers. The concern is that the clauses and dependencies hidden within contracts will quickly explode, making them far too detailed even for professionals to make sense of in a reasonable amount of time. Given that this sort of software may become a necessary accoutrement in most or all legal matters means that the demand for it, or for professionals with access to it, will expand greatly at the expense of those who are unwilling or unable to adopt it. This, though Pasquale only hints at it, may lead to greater imbalances in socioeconomic power. On the other hand, he does not consider the possibility of bottom-up open-source (or state-led) efforts to create synthetic public defenders. While this may seem idealistic, it is fairly clear that the open-source model can compete with and, in some areas, outperform proprietary competitors.

It is not unlikely that within subdomains of law that an array of arms races can and will arise between synthetic intelligences. If a lawyer knows its client is guilty, should it squeal? This will change the way jurisprudence works in many countries, but it would seem unwise to program any robot to knowingly lie about whether a crime, particularly a serious one, has been committed – including by omission. If it is fighting against a punishment it deems overly harsh for a given crime, for trespassing to get a closer look at a rabid raccoon or unintentional jaywalking, should it maintain its client’s innocence as a means to an end? A moral consequentialist, seeing no harm was done (or in some instances, could possibly have been done), may persist in pleading innocent. A synthetic lawyer may be more pragmatic than deontological, but it is not entirely correct, and certainly shortsighted, to (mis)characterize AI as only capable of blindly following a set of instructions, like a Fortran program made to compute the nth member of the Fibonacci series.

Human courts are rife with biases: judges give more lenient sentences after taking a lunch break (65% more likely to grant parole – nothing to spit at), attractive defendants are viewed favorably by unwashed juries and trained jurists alike, and the prejudices of all kinds exist against various “out” groups, which can tip the scales in favor of a guilty verdict or to harsher sentences. Why then would someone have an aversion to the introduction of AI into a system that is clearly ruled, in part, by the quirks of human psychology?  

DoNotPay is an an app that helps drivers fight parking tickets. It allows drivers with legitimate medical emergencies to gain exemptions. So, as Pasquale says, not only will traffic management be automated, but so will appeals. However, as he cautions, a flesh-and-blood lawyer takes responsibility for bad advice. The DoNotPay not only fails to take responsibility, but “holds its client responsible for when its proprietor is harmed by the interaction.” There is little reason to think machines would do a worse job of adhering to privacy guidelines than human beings unless, as mentioned in the example of a machine ratting on its client, there is some overriding principle that would compel them to divulge the information to protect several people from harm if their diagnosis in some way makes them as a danger in their personal or professional life. Is the client responsible for the mistakes of the robot it has hired? Should the blame not fall upon the firm who has provided the service?

Making a blockchain that could handle the demands of processing purchases and sales, one that takes into account all the relevant variables to make expert judgements on a matter, is no small task. As the infamous disagreement over the meaning of the word “chicken” in Frigaliment v. B.N.S International Sales Group illustrates, the definitions of what anything is can be a bit puzzling. The need to maintain a decent reputation to maintain sales is a strong incentive against knowingly cheating customers, but although cheating tends to be the exception for this reason, it is still necessary to protect against it. As one official on the  Commodity Futures Trading Commission put it, “where a smart contract’s conditions depend upon real-world data (e.g., the price of a commodity future at a given time), agreed-upon outside systems, called oracles, can be developed to monitor and verify prices, performance, or other real-world events.”  

Pasquale cites the SEC’s decision to force providers of asset-backed securities to file “downloadable source code in Python.” AmeriCredit responded by saying it  “should not be forced to predict and therefore program every possible slight iteration of all waterfall payments” because its business is “automobile loans, not software development.” AmeriTrade does not seem to be familiar with machine learning. There is a case for making all financial transactions and agreements explicit on an immutable platform like blockchain. There is also a case for making all such code open source, ready to be scrutinized by those with the talents to do so or, in the near future, by those with access to software that can quickly turn it into plain English, Spanish, Mandarin, Bantu, Etruscan, etc.

During the fallout of the 2008 crisis, some homeowners noticed the entities on their foreclosure paperwork did not match the paperwork they received when their mortgages were sold to a trust. According to Dayen (2010) many banks did not fill out the paperwork at all. This seems to be a rather forceful argument in favor of the incorporation of synthetic agents into law practices. Like many futurists Pasquale foresees an increase in “complementary automation.” The cooperation of chess engines with humans can still trounce the best AI out there. This is a commonly cited example of how two (very different) heads are better than one.  Yet going to a lawyer is not like visiting a tailor. People, including fairly delusional ones, know if their clothes fit. Yet they do not know whether they’ve received expert counsel or not – although, the outcome of the case might give them a hint.

Pasquale concludes his paper by asserting that “the rule of law entails a system of social relationships and legitimate governance, not simply the transfer and evaluation of information about behavior.” This is closely related to the doubts expressed at the beginning of the piece about the usefulness of data sets in training legal AI. He then states that those in the legal profession must handle “intractable conflicts of values that repeatedly require thoughtful discretion and negotiation.” This appears to be the legal equivalent of epistemological mysterianism. It stands on still shakier ground than its analogue because it is clear that laws are, or should be, rooted in some set of criteria agreed upon by the members of a given jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the rulings of law makers and the values that inform them be at least partially quantifiable? There are efforts, like EthicsNet, which are trying to prepare datasets and criteria to feed machines in the future (because they will certainly have to be fed by someone!).  There is no doubt that the human touch in law will not be supplanted soon, but the question is whether our intuition should be exalted as guarantee of fairness or a hindrance to moving beyond a legal system bogged down by the baggage of human foibles.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Responds to Jeremy Rifkin’s Plan for a Third Industrial Revolution

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Responds to Jeremy Rifkin’s Plan for a Third Industrial Revolution

Gennady Stolyarov II

Photograph of Jeremy Rifkin by Stephan Röhl

Editor’s Note: Below is a response to Jeremy Rifkin’s plan for a Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy by Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The original post of this documentary can be found here.

    ~ Dinorah Delfin, Director of Admissions and Public Relations, U.S. Transhumanist Party, March 10, 2018

When it comes to Jeremy Rifkin’s thoughts on the future, and what humankind will and will not be able to accomplish, Arthur C. Clarke’s famous First Law encapsulates my reaction: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

I think that Rifkin has many ideas that would be aligned with transhumanism, although his general worldview is not transhumanist in itself. I wholly support the concepts of the sharing economy, the goal of production at zero marginal cost, and the smart infrastructure that he describes would support the Third Industrial Revolution. A redesign of our infrastructure – especially in such a way that would facilitate modular upgrades at a local and even individual level – is essential for overcoming some of the current bottlenecks to technological progress and rising standards of living. I also think that Rifkin is correct that, in the short term, building this new infrastructure will require humans and will mean jobs for those humans. This is probably a good thing, although it is dependent on whether the systems for financing the new projects and appropriately recruiting and treating the workers (e.g., giving them high-quality jobs with good pay, safety precautions, and ample assistance from machines and narrow AIs where possible) can come together in time.

Where I think Rifkin falls short of the transhumanist vision is in his rejection of the goal of a society where basic human problems – including mortality and many of the other key causes of suffering – can be eliminated or at least greatly reduced. He characterizes this as “utopian” thinking, but at every stage of the way, the approach toward these goals would not be utopia, but rather steady improvement. It would be a shame to reject the goals especially as the technologies for making them possible are becoming available. As I have often stated, it is not a matter of if we will have indefinite life extension, but when – and this matters a lot from the standpoint of how many people alive today could be saved.

Where I also differ from Rifkin is that, instead of his focus on the negative (“humans are destroying the Earth”), I and the Transhumanist Party prefer to focus on the positive potentials (humans can improve both our own lives and the Earth through emerging technologies). Many of the solutions may look quite similar – e.g., smart infrastructure, greater energy-efficiency, and renewable energy sources that would move humankind away from fossil fuels (although, unlike Rifkin, I also strongly support the next generation of nuclear reactors, which would use thorium, would be meltdown-proof, and would not be subject to the need for cooling via massive amounts of water that Rifkin criticizes). I think that the way forward is through technological advancement; Rifkin is halfway there – certainly much better than the Neo-Luddite thinkers who have often dominated the environmental movement. But his goals are not in conflict with life extension, massive economic growth, and super-abundance of material prosperity for everyone. In fact, humans need to move along all of these avenues simultaneously and in parallel, as their achievements will reinforce one another and enable progress to occur more readily.

Article III, Section IX of our Platform – – actually summarizes this sentiment quite nicely: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports all emerging technologies that have the potential to improve the human condition – including but not limited to autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, economical solar power, safe nuclear power, hydroelectricity, geothermal power, applications for the sharing of durable goods, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, rapid transit, 3D printing, vertical farming, electronic devices to detect and respond to trauma, and beneficial genetic modification of plants, animals, and human beings.”

Again, Clarke’s First Law comes to mind. To the extent that Rifkin sees potential in any of the above technologies and others, he is correct. To the extent that he does not see it or considers those technologies to be detrimental, he is mistaken.

Beginners’ Explanation of Transhumanism – Bobby Ridge and Gennady Stolyarov II

Beginners’ Explanation of Transhumanism – Bobby Ridge and Gennady Stolyarov II


Bobby Ridge
Gennady Stolyarov II

Bobby Ridge, Secretary-Treasurer of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, and Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, provide a broad “big-picture” overview of transhumanism and major ongoing and future developments in emerging technologies that present the potential to revolutionize the human condition and resolve the age-old perils and limitations that have plagued humankind.

This is a beginners’ overview of transhumanism – which means that it is for everyone, including those who are new to transhumanism and the life-extension movement, as well as those who have been involved in it for many years – since, when it comes to dramatically expanding human longevity and potential, we are all beginners at the beginning of what could be our species’ next great era.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside.

See Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation, “The U.S. Transhumanist Party: Pursuing a Peaceful Political Revolution for Longevity“.

In the background of some of the video segments is a painting now owned by Mr. Stolyarov, from “The Singularity is Here” series by artist Leah Montalto.

Interview with Dr. Akihiro Kubota by Ryan Starr

Interview with Dr. Akihiro Kubota by Ryan Starr


Ryan Starr
Akihiro Kubota

Preface: Art gives birth to scientific innovation.

In an effort to learn more about the historical origins of transhumanism and posthumanism, R. Nicholas Starr began a journey to look at the many topics popular within those communities and retraced them back to art. To continue the research he began to reach out to the artists and scientists at the forefront of exploring this relationship. While he continues to prepare his research for publication, he has decided to release the transcripts from these interviews in hopes to spark conversation and gather even more insight into how the creative mind has shaped our scientific world as we move past the limits of the human body.

R. Nicholas Starr is a multimedia artist, biohacker, researcher, and theorist. With an education in signals intelligence from the United States Air Force, and 20 years of experience creating art and performing music in the U.S. and abroad, he has become a unique voice for the U.S. Transhumanist Movement and American policy.

The second in this series is an interview with Dr. Akihiro Kubota from the Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan. A special thanks to Phil Harry who assisted with the translations.

Quick note and disclaimer from the translator:

I am not a trained professional translator, and this is my first time translating something of this scope, so it may not be a perfect interpretation of the original author’s intended meaning.




What are the critical processes required to create an artificial intelligence program that turns data into art?


I think what’s crucial is not necessarily whether or not AI can make art, but rather whether or not AI can appreciate art. In art that’s being made today, what is even more important than the work itself, is the context of the work. In this sense artistic appreciation requires making connections between the various contexts of a work. I think the framework of modern AI, (through machine learning and reinforcement learning, etc.) allows for this to be possible.


How would the progression from assisted AI to autonomous AI impact AI’s artistic power?


Because context relies heavily on environment and perception, the new contexts that arise from the perception of an entity that is other than human should lead naturally to the creation of new types of art. Rather than AI creating art for the sake of humans, I think a more important problem is the idea of humans creating art for the sake of AI, and whether or not that is possible.


By continuing research in AI-created art, what conclusions can we draw about sentience and sapience?


As Yuval Noah Harari predicts in Homo Deus, I think the point at which humans become “useless” will be the beginning of a new age. Once we are freed from the concepts of “school” and “labor” (as asserted by Ivan Illich), the original, essential role of the arts could make a revival – in effect, a revival of man’s essential nature. In the art of the “useless class”, proposed by Homo Deus’s new age – that is where the future of mankind resides.


Artificial intelligence is a concept that has its roots in literature and mythology. Now that AI can create its own art, have we created a mutual feedback loop?

ハラリの主張の重要なポイントは、「意識」と「知性」の分離が起こることですgreat decouplingAIで「意識」を作ろうとするのは無駄なことです。むしろ「知性」を「意識」から解放することで、「知性」を自由にすることが、大きな可能性を生み出します。擬人化という牢屋から知性を出してあげましょう。

The crucial point of Harari’s claim is the separation of “consciousness” and “intelligence” (the “Great Decoupling”) – the idea being that it is futile to attempt to create consciousness in AI. Rather, by unleashing the concept of intelligence from consciousness, this liberation will bring forth great possibilities. In this way I think we should reconsider how we think of intelligence and set it free from the confines of personification and anthropomorphization.


Is it possible to amplify or modify this feedback loop by interfacing AI directly with the human body?


The advancement of mankind and the liberation of intelligence are essentially unrelated. People are going to have to get comfortable living under the assumption that there are types of intelligence that we can’t comprehend. Instead, what we should concern ourselves with is whether or not we are actively inhibiting the evolution of AI.


You previously acknowledged that the human body has the ability to adapt to, and capitalize on, a new bio-interface. With the current interest in neural lace and other cybernetic technology, how do you see humanity evolving after a several generations of use?


In addition to that, I wonder about the human capacity to expand on this ability. As it is, humans alone are endowed with the necessary flexibility and plasticity to do so. Rather than machines conforming to the needs of humans, by attempting to adapt to the machines, and expand our own capabilities, we will shape the future of mankind.


Do you predict our interactions changing with planet and space as a result?

今日の人間の一番の特徴は、個人の能力にあるのではなく、その数人口にあります。人間の「量」こそがポイントです。そういった意味からは、人間の「量」が地球自体に大きな影響を与えることは、不可避だと思います。地球の有限性が      顕在化したのです。

The greatest trait humans possess today is not our individual abilities, but our collective abilities. The emphasis here being on our “quantity” – meaning that the effect we collectively have on the very planet we live on is an inevitability. And we are beginning to see that the limits of our planet are being actualized.


A significant amount of your work focuses on satellite-based data collection. Why do you prefer this point of view?


Art and Science alike are on the cutting edge of new horizons, and constantly reaching into distant frontiers. Living in an age where we have the capabilities to create satellites using “personal technology”, using them to create art seems like a natural progression. So for me, the ARTSAT project is just an extremely obvious artistic endeavour to undertake.


You stated that the DESPATCH probe “composes and encodes poetry reflecting not only the sensor data but the artist’s subconscious personality”. Did the sculptural shape of DESPATCH influence the data collected and final tonal output?


As I said before, when it comes to art, the most important thing is not the creation of a piece of artwork, but instead the aesthetic appreciation or the interpretation of the piece. In terms of DESPATCH, if you had ten different people looking at the same data, they would all interpret it in different ways, and thus give rise to ten separate pieces. And this is true even if the transmission signal’s data is merely background noise.


How can the average person create their own scientific lens to view and create art?

政治や経済、マスメディアがつくりだしている、虚構の人間観にとらわれず、人間本来の姿や可能性に気がつくことが必要です。労働から解放され、無用な存在になり、ゴーギャンのように『我々はどこから来たのか 我々は何者か 我々はどこへ行くのか』と問うことは、誰にでもできますし、誰もが行うべきことなのだと思います。そこには、制度としての「科学」も「芸術」も不要です。必要なのは「理性」と「知性」なのです。「感情」を偏重する今日の社会の危険性は、すでに多くの人が気づいていることだと思います。何とかしなければなりません。

Systems of government, economies, mass media, etc. – these are all man-made concepts. It is essential that we not be seized by these fabricated human perspectives in order to realize our essential nature and reach the limits of human potential. Once we are freed from the restraints of human toil and begin to occupy Harari’s “useless” existence, I think it will be possible and necessary for all people to wrestle with the existential questions put forth by Gaugin in “Where do we come from? What are we? And where are we going?”. It is in this space that the systems known as “science” and “art” will become unnecessary. What is important are “reason” and “intelligence”. I believe many people are already realizing the potential danger of overemphasizing the importance of “emotion” in today’s society, and I think we need to do something about that.


Ryan Starr (R. Nicholas Starr) is the is the leader of the Transhumanist Party of Colorado and founder of the Transhumanists of the Sierras

See Dr. Akihiro Kubota’s page of teaching achievements and activities here.

Transhumanism: Contemporary Issues – Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II at VSIM:17 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria

Transhumanism: Contemporary Issues – Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II at VSIM:17 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria


Gennady Stolyarov II

Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, outlines common differences in perspectives in three key areas of contemporary transhumanist discourse: artificial intelligence, religion, and privacy. Mr. Stolyarov follows his presentation of each issue with the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s official stances, which endeavor to resolve commonplace debates and find new common ground in these areas. Watch the video of Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation here.

This presentation was delivered by Mr. Stolyarov on September 14, 2017, virtually to the Vanguard Scientific Instruments in Management 2017 (VSIM:17) Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria. Mr. Stolyarov was introduced by Professor Angel Marchev, Sr. –  the organizer of the conference and the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Ambassador to Bulgaria.

After his presentation, Mr. Stolyarov answered questions from the audience on the subjects of the political orientation of transhumanism, what the institutional norms of a transhuman society would look like, and how best to advance transhumanist ideas.

Download and view the slides of Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation (with hyperlinks) here.

Listen to the Transhumanist March (March #12, Op. 78), composed by Mr. Stolyarov in 2014, here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.