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December 14, 2023 Message from the Chair

Message from the Chair: Solving Existential Challenges in an Age of Uncertainty

Laura Possessky

I am honored to serve as Chair this bar year and look forward to the exciting work ahead for the SciTech Section. Kicking-off the year with our 5th Annual AI and Robotics National Law Institute at Santa Clara University, we have plans for a Privacy National Law Institute and a first-ever SciTech meeting planned for this spring in Washington, D.C. Our committees are also hard at work on several programs, meetups, books, and a pre-RSA Conference convening. We are taking on big challenges: the impact of technology disruptions, cybersecurity and world order, and the sustainability of our planet. Each of these topics, and many others being explored by our members, increasingly present existential challenges in a world of growing uncertainty.

As we embark on SciTech’s 50th year, we can see that from the start, the Section addressed significant issues at the crossroads of law and science, including the right to die, human experimentation on prisoners, and the commercial use of space and the space shuttle. In the 1970s, SciTech also advocated for a federal “science court” to address complex scientific legal issues arising from Concorde supersonic transport, nuclear power reactors, and, incredibly, recombinant DNA. Indisputably, climate change is the defining issue of our time. This issue delves into some of the complex challenges of managing climate change risks, and our contributing authors offer important insights about how climate change may influence or affect our work in unexpected ways.

SciTech is also rising to address disruptive changes of AI. At the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver, ABA President Mary Smith created the ABA Presidential Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and Law “to address both the perils and the promise of emerging technologies.” Many SciTech members, past chairs, and leaders are leading this important work. Framing critical issues the AI Task Force will explore, our AI & Robotics National Institute cogently delved into important legal issues emerging as AI transforms our world. With generous support from Covington LLP, Dialpad, and the Silicon Valley Law Group, the event featured keynotes by Professor Brian Patrick Green, Professor Nita Farahany, Dr. Dave Prakash, and Janyi Hein. With experience at the White House as Senior Director for Clean Energy, Infrastructure & the National Environmental Policy Act and in the private sector, Ms. Hein discussed promising AI innovations designed to mitigate the human impacts on and effects of climate change.

One of my all-time favorite films, Wall-E, explores these existential problems. When confronted with his company’s cataclysmic environmental destruction of Earth, BNL CEO Shelby Forthright (played brilliantly by Fred Willard) proclaims, “Rather than try and fix this problem, it’ll just be easier for everyone to remain in space.” Space cruises designed as a temporary fix become a permanent nomadic existence for humans. When cleanup robot Wall-E turns up with signs of life 700 years later and the ship captain unearths a recording of this directive, an existential conflict ensues between AI robots and humans about who decides whether to return to Earth and restore life on the planet.

SciTech members ask difficult questions, search for innovative solutions, and advocate for change. I invite you to contribute to our Section’s work and unique community by exploring unconventional ideas, innovation, and novel approaches—all that will guide us to address the challenging existential questions for the next 50 years.

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