Trends In Information Technology Law: Looking Ahead To 2017

As we go into 2017 the incipient 'technologisation' or 'IT-isation', if you'll excuse the terms, of our lives is gathering pace and becoming much plainer to see. The first few days of December 2016 alone have seen a number of significant developments:

Michigan, the home of the US motor industry, became the first state to enact a comprehensive set of state regulations for autonomous vehicles;1 Amazon announced its 'Just Walk Out' technology-enabled physical shop that does away with the check-out;2 and Google's Deep Mind subsidiary open sourced its core AI research platform.3 Whilst there is no easily observable overarching theme to unite these developments, they all centre on big data and can be grouped into building blocks around the cloud, AI and digital, and in combination constitute what has become known by the portmanteau term the fourth industrial revolution:

Figure 1: building blocks of the fourth industrial revolution

the cloud: computer processing is migrating to the data centre, the cloud's engine room, fuelled by growth in social and mobile and generating an explosion in big data volumes; artificial intelligence (AI): big data is enabling rapid advances in machine learning. Combining machine learning with billions of internet-connected sensors enables machine perception - advances in implantable and wearable devices, personal digital assistants, the Internet of Things, connected homes and smart cities. Add actuation - the ability to navigate the environment - to static machine learning and perception and you get to machine control - autonomous vehicles, domestic robots and drones; digital: other related digital developments on the cusp of adoption at scale as we head into 2017, include augmented reality, gene editing, 3D manufacturing and blockchain and smart contracts. AI and deep learning are worth calling out for particular attention. In research consultancy Gartner's 'Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2007' survey,4 Gartner Vice-President and Fellow David Cearley said "over the next 10 years, virtually every app, application and service will incorporate some level of AI. This will form a long-term trend that will continually evolve and expand the application of AI and machine learning for apps and services."

Deep learning, a machine learning technique, is emerging as AI's 'killer app' enabler. It works by first using large training datasets to teach AI software to accurately recognise patterns from images, sounds and other input data and then, once trained, the software's decreasing error rate enables it to make increasingly accurate predictions. Deep learning is the core technology behind the current rapid uptake of AI in a wide variety of business sectors from due diligence and e-discovery by law firms to the evolution of autonomous vehicles. To show how this happens, Microsoft in October 2016 released an updated version of the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, its deep learning acceleration software, and provided in its accompanying5 blog an example of how the toolkit used training sets to increase training speech recognition accuracy. This...

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