The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Agnese Smith

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How should regulators approach the consumer risks of cryptocurrency investing?

By Agnese Smith October 1, 2018 1 October 2018

How should regulators approach the consumer risks of cryptocurrency investing?

 

Canadian consumers need to “exercise caution” when engaging with the unregulated world of cryptocurrencies. Policymakers, meanwhile, should step up their efforts at monitoring these new assets, and educating the public about their risks. 

These are the conclusions of Ottawa-based non-profit Public Interest Advocacy Centre, echoing similar warnings from some of the world’s most respected voices, including Nobel prize winners, central bankers, and even comedians.

Cryptocurrencies “are just not ready for prime time yet,” particularly for your average Canadian, said John Lawford, PIAC executive director, in a telephone interview.  “There are just too many weaknesses,” including security breaches, lack of consumer redress, not to mention the colossal waste of energy that the current systems require. In its latest report, Assessing the Emergence of "Alternative" Currencies and Legal Risk: the Consumer's Perspective, PIAC called for the creation of “a working group of key stakeholders to review the risks to consumers.”

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Law and technology

Are we putting too much trust in blockchain?

By Agnese Smith April 23, 2018 23 April 2018

Are we putting too much trust in blockchain?

 

During the go-go days of the 1990s, people who should have known better convinced themselves that economic booms and busts were a thing of the past. Such was their faith in traditional institutions like central banks that only small policy tweaks sufficed to magic away all perceived problems. 

“Trust the Fed — trust the market,” was the operating mantra, echoing globalist ideals. 

Fast forward post 2008 financial meltdown, ginormous hacks and fake news, and an entirely new slogan has taken hold, one that reflects a more libertarian mood: “Trust nobody — trust code.”  This includes bankers, lawyers, governments — even formerly beloved tech companies. 

Nothing captures the flavour of our unsettled and untrusting times like blockchain technology, a way to create a tamper-proof ledger that everyone can agree on without anyone being in charge. It was specifically created a decade ago to support the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but enthusiasts see much wider applications, like helping people manage their online identities and assets.

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Cover story

Automating justice

By Agnese Smith March 13, 2018 13 March 2018

Automating justice

 

It’s been a bad decade for gut feelings.

Computers are taking over what used to be the exclusive domain of human decision-making. From movie-picking algorithms to self-driving cars that promise an end to fatal crashes caused by human error, we’re striving to develop technology that can predict when we will make bad choices and help us avoid mistakes.

But as the sophistication of software programs powered by artificial intelligence grows, so does our unease: We are increasingly dependent on technology we do not fully understand. And nowhere is that unease more apparent than in the legal world as it grapples with the implications of using a new generation of risk-assessment tools to guide decision-making in the justice system.

“People’s freedom is at stake,” said Carmen Cheung, professor of global practice at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. “There’s a sense that [predictive software] might help, but we haven’t had a robust enough debate around the issues. Until we have a proper conversation, they probably shouldn’t be rolled out.”

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Transportation

Rules of the road: How are we going to regulate autonomous cars?

By Agnese Smith April 7, 2017 7 April 2017

Rules of the road: How are we going to regulate autonomous cars?


Canadian regulators pondering the possibility of a truly autonomous car future must grapple with two alternate realities — one where the necessary technology is right around the corner and the other where it’s way down the road. Either way, the question is how safe is safe enough, and at what cost?

Car makers like BMW and Ford are unsurprisingly in the former camp, announcing plans to deliver fully automated vehicles (AV), with Level 5 capabilities – or full automation – within the next five years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in January its cars will have that in “3 months maybe, 6 months definitely.” Uber, Google and other technology firms are also investing billions in this space. Self-driving advocates point not only to the potential profits, but also the life-saving and environmental benefits this technology could eventually bring.  

But many in the artificial intelligence and engineering community are skeptical about this timeline. They say the technology for AVs to drive in mixed traffic — presumably, without chaos — are still many years away. For all the teeth-gnashing and shirt-rending angst about how AI might eventually kill off the human race, right now it can’t even drive to a suburban mall, let alone handle junctions like Paris’ Etoile, the intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard and Lower Jarvis St in Toronto or pretty much anywhere in Italy.

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Cover story

The $4 trillion question

By Agnese Smith March 15, 2017 15 March 2017

The $4 trillion question

 

Economists will tell you that trust is necessary for a stable economy. So what are we to make of growing concerns about what businesses do with the personal data of internet users?

Poll after poll shows that consumers simply don’t trust companies with their data and are losing faith in government’s ability to protect their personal information. Meanwhile, regulators around the world struggle to keep pace with technology and business models that are, by nature, anti-privacy; at the same time they worry that overly stringent rules could dampen growth in the digital economy which is expected to contribute an estimated $4-trillion to major economies.

“Today, the digital economy is the economy,” Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development, said in a speech last year. In fact, mass data has become a valuable asset. Whether it’s vacuumed up by mobile or other internet devices, consumer data increasingly drives business decisions. Web-based giants like Google and Facebook are earning fat profits from targeted advertising. 

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