Thumbs up to emojis in law? - Rob Aberdein

I’ve written previously about the huge paradigm shift that AI will bring to legal services and the need to start reimagining the future of our industry.

A couple of recent examples show how technology is challenging the legal norms in some quite surprising ways. You may certainly think twice before sending a thumbs up emoji after reading this! In a wider context, however, both examples show how quickly the landscape is changing for the legal profession and how the ability to evolve and keep pace has never been more important.

First, let’s talk about ghostbots – the use of artificial intelligence to create a digital reincarnation of a deceased individual. They are made by creating holographs or recreating someone’s voice or likeness, often by using data collected from social media. Ghostbots are currently being used for both commercial purposes in the entertainment industry and for personal purposes, by an individual’s family, on sites like MyHeritage.

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While a “do not resuscitate” order can be applied in the physical world, how can people prevent themselves being resuscitated virtually via AI after death? Academics are now looking at how we can protect privacy (including post-mortem privacy) and personal data by regulating ghostbots. The UK does not offer much in the way of image right protection, especially compared with the US – current legislation only seems to come into play when there is harm caused by the use of a ghostbot, such as emotional distress caused to their loved ones.

Rob Aberdein is Chief Commercial Officer at ProgenyRob Aberdein is Chief Commercial Officer at Progeny
Rob Aberdein is Chief Commercial Officer at Progeny

One suggestion to tackle this issue is the use of clauses in wills, prohibiting the creation of posthumous digital reincarnation, with a public register to keep note of such requests.

The evolution of AI throws up the challenge of translating fast-paced developments into enforceable law and providing the framework within which any proposed new system can operate.

My second example refers to a Canadian court case, where a judge controversially ruled that a thumbs-up emoji was just as valid as a signature on a contract. This recent case in the province of Saskatchewan hinged on a farmer being texted a picture of a contract, alongside a message asking him to confirm the contract. The farmer responded with a thumbs-up emoji, which he argued only indicated that he had received the contract but which the judge ruled constituted an agreement to the contract and was no less binding than a signature.

The defence argued that granting this type of influence to an emoji would open the floodgates to enhanced interpretations of other emoji. However, the judge’s view was that the court would not and should not attempt to stem the tide of technology and common usage of emojis, adding that courts will have to be ready to meet the new challenges as they arise.

Whilst we all anxiously check our phones for any similar instances, it’s the perfect illustration of technology challenging established legal norms which, arguably, it should be doing.

AI and legal tech are in their relative infancy and like all disruptive youngsters, pushing boundaries and working out their place in the world. The legal sector, on the other hand, is one of the oldest and most traditional professions we have, but that doesn’t mean it can’t continue to evolve, as it ponders the challenges of our new reality.

Rob Aberdein is Chief Commercial Officer at Progeny