One thing you can do this summer to advance the Rule of Law is to take the recently launched American Bar Association (ABA) research survey on AI & Economic Justice, and share it widely with your networks, on your listservs, and in your community forums.
The question of how AI and AI regulation impact low-income and marginalized people is important for ensuring the Rule of Law. At its core, the Rule of Law is a political ideal that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws. The Rule of Law is essential to a stable and healthy business environment, as it facilitates the social, political, and legal stability necessary for such an environment. As technology fundamentally transforms what people can do and how they interact, ensuring accountability at all levels of society, across all pockets and corners of society, becomes essential to the very fabric, integrity, and stability of our legal system. As issues of access to justice most often impact those with limited means, taking extra efforts to account for equal enforcement of the laws at the margins of society helps us better assess whether our system is, in fact, holding everyone accountable to the same standards. This injects our legal system, and our society at large, with considerable stability.
This bar year, through the leadership of the ABA’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Section (CRSJ) Chair Juan Thomas, the ABA has been focused on shedding light on economic justice issues that are inextricably connected to the CRSJ’s broader civil rights agenda. In line with the theme of economic justice, through collaboration between its Economic Justice and Privacy and Information Protection committees and with support and cooperation from across the ABA, CRSJ developed a project that focused on understanding how artificial intelligence impacts low-income people and other marginalized groups. According to CRSJ Chair Thomas, the project aims to “promote public policy solutions that understand and support the important balance between technological advancement and social justice.”
Initial research by the project leadership team showed that public attention on this issue was moving from one hot topic to the next, without any information on the overall or systematic harms and benefits that AI is creating for marginalized groups. There was a palpable need for an organized mapping of the impacts and touchpoints of AI and AI regulation for low-income people and other marginalized groups. To begin the work, CRSJ designed the AI & Economic Justice Survey.
To take the survey, please visit ambar.org/ai, the online landing page for the survey. Here, you will find more information about the project, a recording of a webinar where members of the AI & Economic Justice Project provide guidance on how to take the survey, and a link to the survey itself. Project leader Marilyn Harbur, co-chair of the Economic Justice Committee, emphasizes the importance of sharing the survey broadly with others as well as filling it out yourself. Alert your friends and colleagues, especially those working with clients located in remote areas. Project leader Alfred Mathewson sees that survey “as your opportunity to help the legal profession assure that no one is unfairly burdened by the A.I. explosion.” He encourages people to take the survey and to spread the word to colleagues and friends.
According to Chair Thomas, “The ABA Section of Civil Rights & Social Justice has launched the ‘AI & Economic Justice Project’ because artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping and changing aspects of our society in innovative ways. From facial recognition to deepfake technology to criminal justice, and health care, these applications are seemingly endless, and more is to come. However, with advances in AI, we must also be focused on protecting vulnerable communities, because in recent years, algorithmic decision-making has produced unfair bias: inequitable, discriminatory, and otherwise problematic results in significant areas of the American economy.”
The survey is a first-of-its-kind ABA research survey designed to identify the ways that AI and automation are impacting low-income and marginalized populations. It is an iterative survey that works to map out what remains a relatively unknown territory. What is learned this year will contribute to improving the survey for next year. Through iterative and annual surveys, the aim is to establish the ABA as a repository for important and time-sensitive information about the impact of technological change on low-income people and other marginalized groups. In addition to helping the ABA set and fine-tune policy, from a business perspective, such a repository would also support business lawyers by flagging areas of potential business risk and opportunity.
With the support and direction of CRSJ Chair Thomas and CRSJ Section Director Paula Shapiro, the project was lifted to the attention of the broader ABA community and has, thus, benefitted from the knowledge and skill of the broader ABA membership. A call for volunteers and support resulted in more than one hundred responses from members across the ABA and an ABA-wide convening on the proposed format and content of the survey. The convening was organized and facilitated by project leaders, including Christopher Frascella, Grant Fergusson, Susan Berstein, and Rubin Roy, with coordination from CRSJ Associate Director Alli Kielsgard and help from CRSJ interns.
In addition to being supported by a sizeable leadership team with members from across various ABA Sections and committees, the survey owes particular thanks to enthusiastic and expert partners from the Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, Judge Alvin Thompson and John Stout of the Business Law Section’s Rule of Law Working Group, and the Science and Technology Law Section, among others.
As an illustration of the project‘s approach, project leader James Pierson, co-chair of the Economic Justice committee, points to comments from FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter in an August 2021 article on “Algorithms and Economic Justice.” There, Slaughter points out the need for balance, as the new technology is “neither a panacea for the world’s ills nor the plague that causes them.” Slaughter cites the words of MIT-affiliated technologist R. David Edelman, “AI is not magic; it is math and code.” She goes on to caution that “just as the technology is not magic, neither is any cure to its shortcomings. It will take focused collaboration between policymakers, regulators, technologists, and attorneys to proactively address this technology’s harms while harnessing its promise.”
In that spirit, the project leaders ask you to join them in focused collaboration in completing the survey and supporting the ABA AI & Economic Justice project with your expertise so that all members of society, particularly those who may be of a more vulnerable socioeconomic status or in a protected category under the law, may be beneficiaries and not targets or victims of advances in artificial intelligence.
This article is part of a series on intersections between business law and the rule of law, and their importance for business lawyers, created by the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s Rule of Law Working Group. Read more articles in the series.
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter with Janice Kopec and Mohamad Bata, “Algorithms and Economic Justice: A Taxonomy of Harms and a Path Forward for the Federal Trade Commission,” Yale Journal of Law & Technology, page 6 (August 2021). ↑