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The opposite of zemblanity

A lawyer walks into a bar.

A corporate lawyer looks around for unrecognized liabilities.

A commercial lawyer wonders if the bar's owner wants to sell or expand.

An academic lawyer considers whether the laws that apply to the bar are appropriately framed.

An academic lawyer who goes to gikii starts speculating about the laws that will be needed in ten years' time when the bar is staffed by robots whose embedded scanners collate customers' brain structures, which they then print out on 3D organ printers to implant in hungry zombie kittens.

Like We Robot, gikii is lawyers riffing about the future, mixing law, technology, science fiction, and pop culture. Founded, as Richard Fisher writes in New Scientist, by Lilian Edwards and Andres Guadamuz, gikii is a safe space for speculation that, as Edwards put it earlier this week, would get you giggled at elsewhere.

Science fiction is often rightly talked about as the literature of ideas; what I hadn't realized until first Computers, Freedom, and Privacy and then We Robot and gikii entered my consciousness is that law is where ideas and real life collide first. It doesn't take a lawyer to spot the clash between a user's casual reference to their mobile phone (owned by work, pwned by Apple) as "mine", but it does take one (Andrew Adams) to draw parallels to prior concepts of "possession" back to medieval times. Limited rights of ownership apply in all sorts of cases: airspace, land, intellectual property. To an American looking to unlock a phone in order to use it with a different network carrier, the discovery of how limited those rights are is zemblanity.

Zemblanity, introduced by Chris Marsden, co-author of Regulating Code, was new to me. It means the opposite of serendipity. Serendipity is an accidental lucky discovery; it's Charles Schulz unexpectedly finding a warm puppy or searching the Internet for an old high school friend and finding he lives a few streets away. By contrast, zemblanity is an accidental unlucky discovery: in Marsden's example, the realization that on the Internet you are never alone - ever. Or the rediscovery of how much geography matters: a guy with a spade cuts off Armenia for five hours in 2011; the NSA taps cables; and you could probably still wreck an awful lot of the Internet by simply buying ten backhoes and deploying them strategically.

Among other speculations brought to me by gikii this week:

- However bad Internet security is now, it's nothing to what will soon be coming our way via the "Internet of Things" (Miranda Mowbray. Internal body sensors, water pumps, wide-open serial port servers are as inviting as a wallet left abandoned on a beach But advanced persistent threats, despite the attention-grabbing incidents, are too expensive for all but nation-states and unlikely to be turned against individuals (unless you're a known dissident caught in the crosshairs).

- The big block to widespread adoption of open access is not money or even entrenched journal business models but academics' need to have their work published in the right journals to gain citations and promotions.

- The reason both sides claimed they won in the Supreme Court decision in AMP v. Myriad Genetics is that the court ruled both that you can't patent DNA and that you can patent complementary DNA. This messy, muddled, possibly business-driven decision led Ray Corrigan to ask, "How can we begin to inject a modicum of scientific and technical literacy into the courts and legislatures?"

- If robots are evil, rather than kill us they might prefer to over-charge and price-fix us (Salil Mehra).

- Disney princesses want privacy, autonomy, and control over their identity (Paul Bernal). Since their stories are all based on much older folk, sources, what this reflects is not an obsession particular to Walt Disney and the corporation he left behind but the story of the human race back to ancient times.

- How do we extend the robot exclusion standard, first to the complex uses of third-party content for which it's already inadequate (Thomas Höppner) and then to the Internet of Things, whose connected objects will need to carry memory and history (Lachlan Urquhart?

- Given 3D organ printing, how long until someone starts printing out human steak?

And finally:

- In all the discussions about cyberbullying an item left out, said Andy Phippen, pouring some reality and research on the present government's we-must-protect-the-children filtering demands, is the growing number of teenaged girls who deliberately use the Internet as a form of self-harm and attention-getting. "There are all sorts of issues going on here," he said - many of them far more complex and sad than most of us realize. Such as, for example, the primary school child who, when asked what he'd seen on the Internet that upset him most, responded: "When my Dad told me on Facebook he didn't want to see me any more." As Phippen said, there is no law or technology that will fix that particular social problem.

Wendy M. Grossman's Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted irregularly during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.


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