EAGER: Piloting a multi-campus training program in algorithmic processes, data analytics and mobile computing for sociolegal scholars
Federal Award ID Number: 1724735
From June 21-24, 2018, UC Irvine hosted a Summer Institute for sociolegal scholars on the challenges to law and society posed by new computational systems and related new technologies. This page mirrors the Project Outcomes Report on the National Science Foundation’s Research.gov website. You can view this report on the NSF’s website by entering the federal award ID number above into the Research.gov search page.
Images: Ben Green (PhD candidate, Harvard) dissects an algorithm for bias; Prof. Mona Lynch (UC Irvine) introduces keynote speaker Safiya Noble (UCLA); Kristin Johnson (Tulane) gives a keynote on algorithms and economic processes; Graduate fellows present a legal advice bot they created using their new programming skills
Abstract at Time of Award
|Changes in technology are revolutionizing the study and practice of law. A generation ago, law and social science scholars outlined a new paradigm for legal scholarship, focusing on social, economic and political variables in the interpretation and execution of the law. Today, algorithmic processes, data analytics and ubiquitous social and mobile computing pose new opportunities for the study of the effects of law, rules, and social norms. These new opportunities invite the use of new methodological techniques in law and social science research. Yet few law and social science scholars are trained to understand these new computational processes. This is a pilot of a collaborative, multidisciplinary, cross-campus network brought together to plan and train the next generation of law and social science scholars in algorithmic processes, data analytics and the opportunities presented by ubiquitous social and mobile computing. It is for the development of a faculty board, new curriculum, and new training activities to be centered primarily at a Technology, Law and Society Summer Institute. The goal is to develop the updated training necessary to ensure that the next generation of socio-legal scholars are equipped to utilize new methodological techniques and new sites of inquiry. Just as the consideration of “law-in-action” shifted the paradigm for legal research by expanding it beyond the exegesis of law as written and into the domain of what judges, lawyers and citizens actually do with law and how they understand it in practice, the interface between law and computer-based and other computational systems offers the opportunity for a new paradigm shift in socio-legal studies. The proposed series of trainings, workshops and a summer institute will equip law and social science scholars to develop methods for the study of these new legal objects and relationships. During the academic year, participants will test methods and formats for cross-training and collaboration. The broader impacts include training new researchers and helping existing law and social science scholars to re-tool; collaborating with the technology and policy communities to bring law and social science research to bear on their activities; and fostering cross-disciplinary, cross-campus collaborations.|
Project Outcomes Report
This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.
Law and society scholars increasingly have to contend with new algorithmic systems, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. Sometimes they encounter them as new factors in the fields they study–from the use of predictive policing algorithms in criminal justice, to questions over the rights of computational agents to own property, or the legal consequences of bias that creeps into credit scoring algorithms for lending decisions. Other times they encounter them as tools that are displacing some of the work of law and legal professionals. And sometimes they are learning to employ such tools themselves to enhance their own research. Yet few are equipped to understand these new systems and technologies.
This EAGER award created an interdisciplinary network of sociolegal scholars, information studies and computer science researchers, and others to begin to set an agenda for understanding law and society in an era of new computational technologies. It began from the question: if sociolegal studies shifted the paradigm in legal scholarship from ‘law on the books’ to ‘law in action,’ how can sociolegal studies grapple with ‘law in computation’–the increasingly computer-mediated context and practice of law? We examined a few key computational systems: artificial intelligence and machine learning; blockchain and ‘smart contract’ technologies; connected devices and the Internet of Things; algorithms, automation and robotics.
The grant supported 5 PhD Fellows at UC Irvine, from Informatics, Criminology, Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science, who worked for one year with a postdoctoral scholar and the co-PIs to sketch out the problem-space of law and computation, assemble readings and bibliographies, and devise a curriculum for a 4-day workshop. The workshop was held in June, 2018. 66 applicants from around the world applied to attend. We invited 27 PhD students and early career scholars, and 9 faculty members from diverse fields and institutions who led workshop activities. Attendees shared their work and received feedback in structured mentoring sessions. In addition, technical workshops provided hands-on training in using webscraping tools for data collection; understanding and building a legal advice chatbot and a Twitter bot; dissecting a risk-scoring algorithm and understanding the impact of biased training data on algorithms; among other topics. Keynotes by Profs. Safiya Noble and Kristin Johnson underscored the effects of new computational technologies on fairness, justice, and accountability in society and law. The 5 UC Irvine Fellows published a blog series about their research in relation to the themes of the project; the co-PIs, Professors Mona Lynch and Bill Maurer, wrote posts providing an overview of the project. Together with Dr. Stephen C. Rea, a postdoctoral scholar, they submitted a synthetic paper to a major journal outlining an agenda for research on law in computation. As an activity adjacent to this project, Dr. Rea also developed an online course on the effect of algorithms in amplifying extremism. One of the Fellows (Christopher Bates) partnered with a Summer Institute faculty member (Sarah Lageson) to assume leadership of the Technology, Law & Society collaborative research network (CRN) of the Law & Society Association. They organized 15 Technology, Law & Society panels for the LSA meeting in Washington D.C. which took place in May, 2019.
Having created an interdisciplinary cohort attuned to each others’ work as well as broad discussions across several fields, we expect the Summer Institute funded by this grant to have a lasting set of broader impacts on fellows’ careers and future products, as well as products that reach a broad public and help shape public understanding of new computational technologies’ impact on legal processes, and vice versa. We also hope to have underscored for our fellow law and social science colleagues the necessity to gain a better technical understanding of new computational processes impacting every aspects of our lives, online and offline.