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Legal dilemmas of the future

Legal dilemmas of the future

Modern technological advancements come at a very rapid pace. In fact, they happen so overwhelmingly fast that we urgently need to update laws related to most aspects of our daily lives. In his recent book, Kamil Mamak, a PhD candidate from the JU Faculty of Law and Administration, tries to tackle the issue of the possible future changes in regulations aimed to reflect the development of technology.

As people and society are within the scope of interest of criminal law, they must naturally evolve together. Is that what’s really going on? Are there any future scenarios that could play out and force us to think over the concepts of crime, guilt and punishment in the age of modern technology? The book Prawo karne przyszłości [Criminal law of the future] by Kamil Mamak is a collection of 30 essays written on the subject of various technologies and the dangers and benefits that they bring into our lives.

One thousand years in eight hours

Subjective perception of time has been the focus of research studies for a long time now. Some of them measured the impact of psychoactive substances on this perception. In one of his essays, Kamil Mamak asks the question: ‘What would happen if we could maximise the subjective prison time of an inmate while simultaneously minimising the real incarceration time?’. He bases his considerations on an article from The Telegraph, the author of which discussed a substance that would make a prisoner experience the passing of a thousand-year-long sentence in eight hours.

Such a solution could bring about a lot of savings to state treasuries. For instance, in Poland, the monthly cost of housing one prisoner in a correctional facility is about 750 euro (as of 2016).  Additionally, the inmate would serve their time, but retain their acquaintances and job, and it would be drastically less impactful on their family.

A fair judgement
Twenty years in prison might be a lot of time for someone who dies at 60, but it’s much less severe for a person who dies at 100.

As lifespan increases, punishment becomes more lenient. It’s important to remember, however, that one of the more important aspects of prison sentence is isolation – separation of criminals from the general public. Tampering with subjective perception of time doesn’t address this aspect. And so we’ll find ourselves facing a key question: should punishment be prisoner- or society-focused?

Kamil Mamak juxtaposes these deliberations with a case in which an inmate goes into a coma during their sentence. For them, it could be seen as a temporary absence from prison, while society would perceive it as it really occurred.

All things considered, it’s important to remember that since lifespan is limited, the key element of all prison sentences is the sense of lost time.

Increased longevity

Prison time is related to another thread in the book. The author’s argument goes as follows: twenty years in prison might be a lot of time for someone who dies at 60, but it’s much less severe for a person who dies at 100. Scientists predict our lifespans are going to increase. This is caused by advances in technology (medicine, diagnostics etc.) and growing knowledge of the human body. Do lawmakers take this into account?

The author discusses this issue by comparing the two harshest punishments in Polish legislation: 25 years and life sentence. He gives the example of two 30-year-olds. According to the Central Statistical Office of Poland (2016), the remaining lifespan of a 30-year-old born in 1997 is 40.4 years. For a 30-year-old born in 2014, the number raises to 44.9. Let’s assume both of them were sentenced to life imprisonment. Statistically speaking, the punishment becomes 4.5 years longer. The legislators will have to keep that in mind, even if only for economic reasons, since it’s expensive to keep inmates incarcerated.

Driverless cars

Speaking of incarceration, one can be sent to prison for a wide variety of reasons. One of them is causing an accident. For decades now, people have been talking about self-driving vehicles. Currently, the automotive industry is engaged in several projects related to this issue. But as Kamil Mamak points out, self-driving cars are not only a technological revolution, but also a legal one. Questions of philosophical nature also arise when discussing this subject, most notably the trolley problem. In such a situation, we must ask ourselves how a driverless car should behave in the face of an unavoidable accident. For instance, should it sacrifice its only passenger to save, say, a woman with a child standing on the roadside? If so, why? And who should make decisions on these matters?

At the moment, only semi-autonomous vehicles are allowed on Polish roads. Parking assist system, cruise control, rain sensor – these are some of the improvements that take care of certain aspects of driving. Who’s to blame if an accident occurs because of them? The answer is simple. The law states that the driver is responsible for everything that’s related to the process of driving itself. But what if the person sitting in the car did not participate in the process of driving at all? Kamil Mamak thinks the responsibility for that will be shifted to car producers and maintenance services. He also points at crimes such as car hacking. They too will need to be properly regulated.

Over our heads

Drones are becoming more and more popular. Though they started out as military equipment, they are now used in a variety of other activities, such as filming, monitoring, or even drug trafficking. Everyone who wants to own a drone in Poland should be mindful of the regulations concerning civilian aircraft and possess a valid licence. It’s worth to remember that the drone’s owner will have to face consequences if they deliberately injure someone or lose control over their device. One doesn’t have to be a driver to be responsible for a traffic accident – everyone that ignores safety rules can be faced with charges. It’s also noteworthy that if the drone’s pilot observes a person in need of medical assistance and fails to report it, they may be charged with up to 3 years in prison. The author mentions other offences that can be perpetrated by drone owners, like stalking or peeping.

One deaf child, please

In another essay, Kamil Mamak raises the issue of legal loopholes. The development of medicine is leading to longer lifespans and higher quality of life. We’re able to manipulate our organisms at the genetic level. But it seems that the equipment and techniques that allow scientists to do that can be misused. It is particularly controversial if technology is employed to ‘design’ children to meet the expectations of their parents. The author talks about the case of a deaf-mute couple who wanted to have a deaf-mute child – and they got their wish. Was this a crime? Since as of yet there is no law that would protect one’s health before they were even conceived, nobody can be punished.

Prawo karne przyszłości is, deceptively, a book about our life here and now: the aspects of our lives that are being reshaped by new technologies. The author compared them to the current law and presented a vision of potential changes. It allows the general reader to understand what challenges the legislators will face when introducing new laws. Although the author only mentions certain problems, his aim was chiefly to encourage people to take interest in these matters and think about creative solutions.

Kamil Mamak is a PhD candidate at the JU Faculty of Law and Administration Chair in Criminal Law and Chair in Natural Philosphy of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow. His interests include new technologies, transformations in societies and the future of human civilisation. He runs a blog about criminal law, philosophy, and technology.

Images in the article were taken from the book Prawo karne przyszłości published by Wolters Kluwer publishing house.

Original text: Justyna Jaskuska-Schab,

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