Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

Ian Kerr 1965-2019

My dear friend Ian Kerr died last night. It wasn’t a surprise–complications from cancer had him in hospital in a parlous state for some time–but it’s still a kick in the gut.

Ian was one of the smartest, most joyous, and luminous people I knew. To call him a great friend understates it. We also wrote together, and did stuff: Along with Ryan Calo, the three of us founded We Robot and edited a book on Robot Law.

Ian’s most recent article, The Death of the AI Author (co-authored with Carys Craig) is not only an answer to a copyright challenge that has endured for a couple of decades, but is one of the most elegantly clever law articles I have ever read.

More importantly, Ian was just thoroughly nice and good.

Ian wore his brilliance lightly. He gave his bio on his personal homepage as this:

Unpacking social conventions can be pretty hilarious sometimes.

For example, it is standard practice for every academic to author a never-ending laundry list of what other people might perceive as our most impressive accomplishments. We call this our bio.

The conventional tone of what we say about ourselves in these things is so ridiculous that we write them as though someone else wrote them for us (kind of like when our universities announce that they would like to “nominate” us for awards but then ask us to write a 25 page application to bring money into the university). Once written and posted to a website, our bios are available for conference moderators and other strangers to introduce us as though they know us. The most delightful part of this odd scholarly exercise is that we get to sit there during our introduction and act appropriately modest and sometimes even shocked that they knew all of this detail — as if we had no idea that they would mention any of these things about us.

If you came to this portion of the site to participate in this strange social convention, you can find my conventional bio here.

But to have a more honest sense of the sweet serendipity of it all, the bio more to my liking goes something like this…

In the early-mid 1980s, ian not only chose to have BIG HAIR, he came very close to making another big mistake. He almost became a dentist (not that there is anything wrong with it). Nearing the end of the 11th hour, he somehow realized that schlepping teeth was something his dad wanted for him, but not something he wanted for himself. In what must have felt like an epiphany to a twenty year old, he realized that every single elective he ever took during his science degree was in philosophy.  Upon graduation, bathed in uncertainty and existential angst typical of that stage of things, he made the bold (if not foolhardy) move of bailing on a career in the health sciences and enrolling instead in honours philosophy. His parents, while supportive, must have taken a deep breath.

During his studies in philosophy he fell in love with the law and was eventually sweet-talked into going to law school by this man while completing his doctorate in philosophy and teaching 800 students. Upon completing his academic degrees, ian was in the process of arranging to spend his articling year in toronto, writing appellate facta for the crown, when this man talked him into articling at what has since become this firm. He was then tricked by the then dean of western law to test-out a new three way interdisciplinary appointment in philosophy, law and information technology. This prank profoundly altered the course of his intellectual life, for which he will be eternally grateful. Soon after, with many friends in common, he met the only other canadian common law colleague in the burgeoning field of techlaw, michael geist. A few years later, that guy who talked ian into going to law school became geist’s dean. The rest is, as they say, history.

In contrast, here’s how U. Ottawa described him on his official homepage:

Dr. Ian Kerr is Full Professor and Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law, and Technology at the University of Ottawa, where he holds a unique four-way appointment in Law, Medicine, Philosophy, and Information Studies. His research interrogates legal and ethical issues surrounding the human-machine merger. At one end of the continuum, he examines the social implications of delegating human tasks and decision-making to machines, at the other end, of putting machine parts into people. His current research focuses on artificial intelligence (AI) decision-making, military robots, driverless cars, robotic surgery, automated medical diagnostics and implantable medical devices. His work on these emerging technologies has contributed to the development of a new field of study: AI and robotics law and policy. He also continues to play a leading role on the global stage in rethinking privacy and surveillance law and policy.

Dr. Kerr is regularly invited to consult and collaborate with international institutions, governments, NGOs, and academic/professional institutes on the ethics, regulation and governance of emerging technologies. Some recent examples include: the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, the White House, the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, the National Judicial Institute, the Standing Parliamentary Committee for Access to Information, Ethics, and Technology, and the Standing Senate Committee for Social Affairs, Science, and Technology.

Dr. Kerr’s prolific contributions to the field integrate philosophical, technological, and legal frameworks and methods. His interdisciplinary research has attracted more than eight million dollars in support from the Canada’s Tri-Council and other agencies. SSHRC and the Canada Research Chair program have funded ongoing work on AI, robotics, artificial organs and medical devices. Transport Canada funds his work on autonomous and connected vehicles. The Department of National Defence funds his research on autonomous weapon systems.

Dr. Kerr has also spearheaded several large team-based research initiatives on privacy and surveillance and was recognized for his outstanding contributions to scholarship with the Karen Spector Memorial Award for Excellence in Privacy Law. His seminal work, Lessons from the Identity Trail, published by Oxford University Press under its first ever Creative Commons licence, assembles the work of philosophers, ethicists, feminists, cognitive scientists, lawyers, cryptographers, engineers, policy analysts, government policy makers and privacy experts from around the globe. Together, they collaborate on a range of topics including: human implantable radio frequency identification chips, ubiquitous computing, predictive data-mining, selective self-presentation, gender identity, the societal impact of web-camming, national identity cards, the social value of privacy and its constitutional limits, the perceived tension between privacy and national security, and a five-country comparative study surveying the place of anonymity across the legal domain.

Dr. Kerr is renowned at the Faculty of Law for his dedication as a teacher and mentor. His devotion to teaching has earned him eight awards and citations, including the University of Ottawa Excellence in Education Prize, the Bank of Nova Scotia Award of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the University of Ottawa AEECLSS Teaching Excellence Award and the University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Award of Teaching Excellence. His courses—Building Better Humans? and The Laws of Robotics—have garnered international attention, with regular invitations to lecture and teach at prestigious institutions across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He is the co-director of the Canada Research Chair Laboratory in Law and Technology, a facility supporting the training of 40 researchers. In addition to supporting and supervising a steady stream of Masters, PhDs and PostDocs, he also hires a select group of 6-8 undergraduate research assistants as part of the Centre for Law, Technology, and Society’s 1L Techno-ship program, attracting the law school’s top talent every year. He is known for immersing his students in cutting edge research, cultivating deep academic interest and involving them in hands-on skill-developing opportunities, including: developing research materials, co-authoring publications, accompanying him to government and court appearances, and, with his top graduate students, co-teaching university courses. He is always in search of exceptional students to join his research team.

Ian was not just a fountain of ideas, a stalwart friend, and a great collaborator, he was also a mentor to many graduate and law students. He leaves behind him not just a large legacy of publications and projects, but of students whose careers took shape thanks to his generosity and intellectual alchemy.

Ian’s long-time colleague at UOttawa Michael Geist has a fuller remembrance of Ian here. Ian leaves a hole nothing can fill.

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We’re Hiring!

Official announcement:

The University of Miami School of Law seeks entry-level and lateral candidates to join our intellectual community beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year. These faculty hires will fill particular needs in International Law (public or private), Evidence, and Alternative Dispute Resolution (arbitration and negotiation, particularly). We also seek a Director of the Litigation Skills program at the tenured/tenure-track/non-tenure-track level, and are especially interested in candidates with a capacity to teach in at least one of the areas identified above. Finally, we seek to hire two professors of Legal Communication and Research Skills in non-tenure track positions.

The Law School is committed to diversity of all kinds in its faculty, students, and staff and encourages applications from candidates who will increase the diversity of the Miami Law community. The University of Miami is an Equal Opportunity Employer that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, disability, religion, age, status in the uniformed services of the United States (including veteran status), marital status, status as a victim of domestic violence, citizenship status, genetic predisposition, carrier status, or any other classification protected under federal, state, or local law.

Entry-level applicants are encouraged to use the AALS submission process to apply. Lateral applicants may submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, writing sample, the names of three references, and teaching evaluations (if available) in PDF format to Professor Charlton Copeland, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, at ccopeland@law.miami.edu.

For a past post on life here — still very relevant, although note that we have an exciting new Dean — see Ten Reasons Why You Should Teach Here–And Three Why You Shouldn’t (2018 edition).

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Great Advice for 1Ls (& 2L & 3Ls)

Prof. Ilya Somin of George Mason (not, certs, one of my ideological bedfellows), has some really good advice for law students. I trust he will forgive me if I do something I almost never do and quote almost all of it:

1. Think carefully about what kind of law you want to practice.

Law is a profession with relatively high income and social status. Yet studies repeatedly show that many lawyers are deeply unhappy, a higher percentage than in most other professions. One reason for this is that many of them hate the work they do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are lots of different types of legal careers out there, and it’s likely that one of them will be a good fit for you…. But to take advantage of this diversity, you need to start considering what type of legal career best fits your needs and interests….

Regardless, don’t just “go with the flow” in terms of choosing what kind of legal career you want to try. The jobs that many of your classmates want may be terrible for you (and vice versa). Keep in mind, also, that you likely have a wider range of options now than you will in five or ten years, when it may be much harder to switch to a very different field from the one you have been working in since graduation.

2. Get to know as many of your classmates and professors as you reasonably can.

Law is a “people” business. Connections are extremely important. No matter how brilliant a legal thinker you may be, it’s hard to get ahead as a lawyer purely by working alone at your desk. Many of your law school classmates could turn out to be useful connections down the road….

This is one front on which I didn’t do very well when I was in law school, myself. Nonetheless, I am still going to suggest you do as I say, not as I actually did. You will be better off if you learn from my mistake than if you repeat it.

3. Think about whether what you plan to do is right and just.

Law presents more serious moral dilemmas than many other professions. What lawyers do can often cost innocent people their liberty, their property, or even their lives. It can also save all three. Lawyers have played key roles in almost every major advance for liberty and justice in American history, including the establishment of the Constitution, the antislavery movement, the civil rights movement and many others. But they have also been among the major perpetrators of nearly every great injustice in our history, as well….

Law school is the right time to start working to ensure that the career you pursue is at least morally defensible. You don’t necessarily have a moral obligation to devote your career to doing good. But you should at least avoid exacerbating evil. And it’s easier to do that if you think carefully about the issues involved now (when you still have a wide range of options), than if you wait until you are already enmeshed in a job that involves perpetrating injustice…..

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When Elizabeth met Barack

I love this clip of Elizabeth Warren telling the story of how she met Barack Obama.

The New York Times reports that Iowa (and presumably other) Democrats are worrying that even though they ‘love’ her, Warren is not as ‘electable’ as, say, Biden.  I suspect there is a gender tax that female presidential candidates must pay of a few percent, so this is not a crazy thing to worry about. But Warren is a lot more ‘likeable’ and natural than Hilary Clinton, who had suffered the misfortune of living in a goldfish bowl for decades and had become too cautious in public. Warren (like, incidentally, Booker) comes off as genuine in a way that I think will sell.

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Local NPR Station Profiles Tony Varona, Our New Dean

Tony VeronaJessica Bakeman, How Being Cuban And Gay Shaped the University of Miami’s New Law Dean .

My favorite bit:

He said the cultural fusion is what attracts him to the Magic City.

I love how there are places here where you can get a Cuban cafe con leche with your bagel and lox,” he said.

Indeed.

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Advice for 1Ls

Above the Law (of all places) has some good advice for 1Ls. I agree with at least eight out of ten.

Although i don’t exactly disagree, I would have put #8 and especially #10 differently. #8’s “Read. Think. Then ask.” doesn’t quite fit how I run a classroom–I see part of my job as going outside the readings and trying to ask questions the either require applying them to something new, or extending them in some way. In other words, the answer isn’t always in the book–the “think” part may be more important sometimes. As for #10, I’m all for ‘engaging with professors (although the author seems to mean more ‘psych out’ than ‘engage’?), but the secret to doing well on exams that seems to elude a lot of people is ….. “Read the directions, read the question, answer the question being asked, not the one you wished was asked. Be as specific as possible. Illustrate your replies with (brief, summary) examples or citations drawn from the readings whenever possible.)”

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