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Copyright Giulio Coraggio 2018

The Internet of Things creates a State of Exception

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things creates a State of Exception

How the Internet of Things is leading to a major disruption also in the legal system and how we regulate transactions. 

As part of the series of guest posts named Thoughts Leaders’ Corner, here is an interesting article from Rob van Kranenburg, who is the founder of Council, and Chair of AC04 – IoT Hyper-connected Society of the IERC, The European Research Cluster on the Internet of Things. I hope you will enjoy it and if you are interested to the legal issues of the Internet of Things, check my blog posts here!

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There is a major debate on a new role for law and lawyers in our societies as Internet of Things and decentralized protocols are scripting trust – the key asset or exactly absence of which allows the lawyer to embody that lack – in both products and services themselves at a deep level of connectivity and in the very nature of the ‘contract’ as such, in ‘smart contracts’ deeply embedded in code.

What is happening?

Blockchain is a technology “that challenges and changes other technology” according to William Mougayar in his article Blockchain apps will soon create a decentralised version of the web. He sees Blockchain

working as a layer on top of the Internet.

Actually, it is also a lawyer on top of the Internet.

James Eyers and Misa Han write in their article named “Lawyers prepare for ‘driverless M&A’ as smart contract era dawns” that:

The nation’s top law firms are braced for disruption as “smart contract” technology threatens thousands of legal jobs and lawyers’ role intermediating commercial negotiations and disputes is automated by computers. … One of the country’s biggest law firms, Allens, sent a report to its clients on Friday afternoon admitting that lawyers’ business model of profiting from an absence of trust in companies transacting with each is under threat from trust being coded into computers via distributed ledger technology, also known as blockchain.

Why is IoT so utterly disruptive?

Before we go into what this means for the practice of law and if such changes have happened before, we must briefly look into #IoT.

The Internet of Things is a reality of ‘data-base one-ness’, as in the Object Name Server (ONS) dream of focusing on RFID (as EPC Global) and IP in everything with software (ipv6 and IPSO Alliance). Can that be done? Can that be done in say 15 to 20 years?


It has been done before.

Virginia Woolf wrote about the London Docks in her London Scenes:

It is we-our tastes, our fashions, our needs-that make the cranes dip and swing, that call the ships from the sea. Our body is their master. We demand shoes, furs, bags, stoves, oil, rice puddings, candles; and they are brought to us. Trade watches us anxiously to see what new desires are beginning to grow in us, what new dislikes. One feels an important, a complex, a necessary animal as one stands on the quayside watching the cranes hoist this barrel, that crate, that other bale from the holds of the ships that have come to anchor.

The docks, the ships, the things and workers, they are not haphazard works of nature. They serve a purpose and that purpose is our needs. We want the things that we are buying. We can discuss the superficiality of that longing, we may agree that the longing itself is manipulated by advertising and marketing, but we should have our eyes on the material effects and those are visibly present. It is still the goods themselves that shape the material ways they are transported, docked, shipped, handled and stored. Eventually those goods will shape they way that we buy them, as they transform the way we shop.

The composition that builds the shop, the shopper and the things that are being ‘shopped’ was matched by the shift in the transport system that managed to reduce the enormous variety of transporting goods in all kinds of shapes and sizes, weights and measures, as we can see from this picture of a locomotive being unloaded, namely the container, as  Christian Nold showed me  in “The Box That Changed Britain”

In the book named “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” M. Levinson says:

On April 26, 1956, a crane lifted fifty-eight aluminium truck bodies aboard an aging tanker ship moored in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the Ideal-X sailed into Houston, where fifty-eight trucks waited to take on the metal boxes and haul them to their destinations. Such was the beginning of a revolution.

The colorful chaos of the old-time pier is nowhere in evidence at a major container terminal, the brawny longshoremen carrying bags of coffee on their shoulders nowhere to be seen. Terry Malloy, the muscular hero played by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, would not be at home. Almost every one of the intricate movements required to service a vessel is choreographed by a computer long before the ship arrives.

Prior to highly mechanised container transfers, Wikipedia writes: “crews of 20–22 longshoremen would pack individual cargoes into the hold of a ship. After containerization, large crews of longshoremen were no longer necessary at port facilities, and the profession changed drastically.

The container changed the harbour, all dock operations, the roads to the harbour, the trucks that carried container, the trains to the harbours, the ships carrying the containers, and every thing that can transported in and by it. The box literally shaped its surroundings in such a way that it would thrive. Had it been a living entity it would have to be characterised as an extremely successful virus, or had it been human it can only be compared to the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. But as it is a box, we most of the time don’t really think much of it.

What the container did to our visible world, IoT is doing to our invisible surroundings. Ipv6 and RFID are happening now. The prerequisite was described by Mc Luhan when he wrote:

Since Sputnik and the satellites, the planet is enclosed in a manmade environment that ends “Nature” and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed. Shakespeare at the Globe mentioning “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7) has been justified by recent events in ways that would have struck him as entirely paradoxical. The results of living inside a proscenium arch of satellites is that the young now accept the public spaces of the earth as role-playing areas. Sensing this, they adopt costumes and roles and are ready to “do their thing” everywhere.

The Internet of Things is not primarily for people. It is a system of systems aimed at foregrounding the notion of a systemic approach alongside facilitating the notion that systemic solutions are actual solutions.

Law as an autopoetic system

We as humans have lived through ontological shifts, moments where thought and belief systems that are seen as ‘normal’ get shaken up by outside events. The normal is very tough to break, but once it has cracks it always crumbles relatively or very fast.

Internet of Things creates a ‘state of exception’ that is not manageable to current political and economic tools. Legislation that is tied to these tools logically also makes ‘no sense’. It cannot ‘steer’ developments and that I would say is the very point of having a legal system.

If you found this article interesting, please share it on your favourite social media. And for more discussions around the topic, you can follow Rob van Kranenburg on his LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Also, if you want to contribute to the Thought Leaders’ Corner, here are the guidelines for guest posts.

Giulio Coraggio

I am an Information Technology, data protection, Internet, gaming and commercial lawyer with passion for technologies.