• At Kemp Little, we are known for our ability to serve the very particular needs of a large but diverse technology client base. Our hands-on industry know-how makes us a good fit with many of the world's biggest technology and digital media businesses, yet means we are equally relevant to companies with a technology bias, in sectors such as professional services, financial services, retail, travel and healthcare.
  • Kemp Little specialises in the technology and digital media sectors and provides a range of legal services that are crucial to fast-moving, innovative businesses.Our blend of sector awareness, technical excellence and responsiveness, means we are regularly ranked as a leading firm by directories such as Legal 500, Chambers and PLC Which Lawyer. Our practice areas cover a wide range of legal issues and advice.
  • Our Commercial Technology team has established itself as one of the strongest in the UK. We are ranked in Legal 500, Chambers & Partners and PLC Which Lawyer, with four of our partners recommended.
  • Our team provides practical and commercial advice founded on years of experience and technical know-how to technology and digital media companies that need to be alert to the rules and regulations of competition law.
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  • Our litigation practice advises on all aspects of dispute resolution, with a particular focus on ownership, exploitation and infringement of intellectual property rights and commercial disputes in the technology sector.
  • We have an industry-leading reputation for our outsourcing expertise. Our professionals deliver credible legal advice to providers and acquirers of IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) services.
  • We work alongside companies, many with disruptive technologies, that seek funding, as well as with the venture capital firms, institutional investors and corporate ventures that want to invest in exciting business opportunities.
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  • At Kemp Little, we advise clients in diverse sectors where technology is fundamental to the ongoing success of their businesses.They include companies that provide technology as a service and businesses where the use of technology is key to their business model, enabling them to bring their product or service to market.
  • We bring our commercial understanding of digital business models, our legal expertise and our reputation for delivering high quality, cost-effective services to this dynamic sector.
  • Acting for market leaders and market changers within the media industry, we combine in-depth knowledge of the structural technology that underpins content delivery and the impact of digitisation on the rights of producers and consumers.
  • We understand the risks facing this sector and work with our clients to conquer those challenges. Testimony to our success is the continued growth in our team of professionals and the clients we serve.
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  • For clients operating in the online sector, our teams are structured to meet their commercial, financing, M&A, competition and regulatory, employment and intellectual property legal needs.
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  • Our clients trust us to apply our solutions and know-how to help them make the best use of technology in structuring deals, mitigating key risks to their businesses and in achieving their commercial objectives.
  • We have extensive experience of advising customers and suppliers in the retail sector on technology development, licensing and supply projects, and in advising on all aspects of procurement and online operations.
  • Our legal professionals work alongside social media providers and users in relation to the commercial, privacy, data, advertising, intellectual property, employment and corporate issues that arise in this dynamic sector.
  • Our years of working alongside diverse software clients have given us an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of the software marketplace, market practice and alternative negotiating strategies.
  • Working with direct providers of travel services, including aggregators, facilitators and suppliers of transport and technology, our team has developed a unique specialist knowledge of the sector
  • Your life as an entrepreneur is full of daily challenges as you seek to grow your business. One of the key strengths of our firm is that we understand these challenges.
  • Kemp Little is trusted by some of the world’s leading luxury brands and some of the most innovative e-commerce retailers changing the face of the industry.
  • HR Bytes is an exclusive, comprehensive, online service that will provide you with a wide range of practical, insightful and current employment law information. HR Bytes members get priority booking for events, key insight and a range of employment materials for free.
  • FlightDeck is our portal designed especially with start-up and emerging technology businesses in mind to help you get your business up and running in the right way. We provide a free pack of all the things no-one tells you and things they don’t give away to get you started.

AI in the dock: the Trial of Superdebthunterbot

It’s not often that the art world intersects with technology law.  But that’s exactly what happened when artist Helen Knowles staged a performance of The Trial of Superdebthunterbot at the Zabludowicz Collection in north London on 26 February.

“A debt collecting company, Debt BB buys the student loan book from the government for more than it is worth, on the condition it can use unconventional means to collect debt. Debt BB codes an algorithm to ensure fewer loan defaulters by targeting individuals through the use of big data, placing job adverts on web pages they frequent. Superdebthunterbot has a “capacity to self-educate, to learn and to modify it’s coding sequences independent of human oversight” (Susan Schullppi, Deadly Algorithms). Five individuals have died as a result of the algorithm’s actions, by partaking in unregulated medical trials. In the eyes of the International Ether Court, can the said algorithm be found guilty?”

The algorithm has realised that unregulated and dodgy jobs generate cash quicker, and steered the vulnerable defaulters towards such jobs. Debt BB is insolvent and the original programmer has died. The case has been brought to the International Ether Court under the Algorithm Liability Act, with Superdebthunterbot standing accused of gross negligence manslaughter.

Participants watched a film of the trial, and then the jury sat down to deliberate (ably aided by audience contributions). The jury was comprised of artists, technologists, legal academics, a futurologist and a Kemp Little Commercial Technology lawyer (Michael Butterworth).

Initially, the jury found it difficult to integrate the premise that an algorithm could be liable for a crime. In the end, Superdebthunterbot was granted a second chance at life, as there were 5 votes for guilty and 7 votes for not guilty. However, the discussion brought out a number of interesting themes:

  • The emotional and intellectual difficulties with applying a human-based code of ethics (the law) to machines. The concept of negligence appeared to translate fairly well to independent thinking machines, as the concept of “reasonable foreseeability” is an objective standard, and doesn’t require analysis of any mental state. However, there was a divide between the emotional reaction judging the behaviour as morally wrong and the intellectual desire to impute such behaviour to a rational agent.
  • The purpose of punishment, which is a live and controversial debate within human society. The jury was only asked to establish the algorithm’s liability, as sentencing would be left to the judge, but what would be the point of punishing a machine? How would any potential ‘Algorithm Liability Act’ approach the competing strands of punishment: rehabilitation and prevention, retribution; restorative justice (i.e. helping victims overcome the crime) or even redemption?
  • The difficulty differentiating between an algorithm, as a piece of code, and its physical implementation in a machine or network. It would have been much easier to find the Superdebthunterbot algorithm liable if it was embodied in a humanoid robot, but it’s much more difficult to do that when the algorithm operates across a network of disparate machines operated by third parties.
  • Regulation was a recurring theme. What would this involve? How do we move beyond and improve upon Asimov’s laws? How do we ensure compliance, once the human owners or creators are dead or insolvent? How can regulators keep up with an increasingly complex area of technology? How can the public have meaningful oversight and understanding of the algorithms and the regulators?
  • If Artificial Intelligence can be legally responsible for its actions, is a sufficient level of reflexivity or self-understanding required? Jurors drew parallels between legal responsibility for children, where at a certain age individuals are deemed by the law to be responsible for their actions. How would any such maturity level for an algorithm be defined?
  • This scenario was not far removed from reality today. It was acknowledged by the jury that this was already happening, although in a less visible way. The value of this piece of art was to make visible and crystallise issues that are already out there. Is the Artificial Intelligence the problem, or is the real issue the conversion of humans into data and then the paternalistic manipulation of the humans in a technical and organisational process?

Despite their differences, there was one thing that every single juror agreed upon: any liability for the Artificial Intelligence must not in any way let the human owners, operators and creators off the hook: a reminder that we are all responsible for the future. Has the weight of freedom ever been so great?

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Andrew Joint