Clay Shirky, LVI 2012 Featured Speaker


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Clay Shirky will deliver the Tuesday keynote at the 2012 Law Via the Internet Conference (which you can watch live here). Which is a little odd, really. Shirky is not a lawyer. Wikipedia calls him “an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies.” Mostly, he writes and talks about social media.

So what is he doing at a conference about law?

You could say that Shirky studies the intersection of the Internet and culture, trying to understand the significance of new developments in technology. For example, back when (now simply Delicious) and Flickr brought tagging to their link- and photo-sharing services, Shirky talked about the power of self-organizing systems as a way to leverage the long tail. In other words, Shirky takes simple things and makes them complex — which, sometimes, they are.

In this way, he is a bit like a cyberpunk novelist, who tries to reason out the logical consequences of technological developments for the not-so-distant future. Except that Shirky doesn’t have to embed his pronouncements in a novel; he does it from a stage, often at one of the many TED conferences. In fact, his most-recent TED talk veered into legal territory, and I suspect his keynote at the LVI conference will be similar to his TED talk on the coming of open government at the beginning of this article.

Here’s one way to view that talk: Shirky thinks track changes will save democracy. On the other hand, the point of the Law Via the Internet Conference — and Shirky’s point in that talk — is to try to figure out how to truly open up the law to the public. One of the ways it could happen is using open-source approaches like github. Right now, the law is mostly hidden between Thomson’s proprietary case citations and states that assert copyright in their laws. Maybe open-source version trackers are part of the answer. So are repositories like Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.

Not all the technology that may lead to open access to the law need to come from lawyers, and so it’s quite likely that not all the ideas about open access to the law need to come from lawyers. Maybe Shirky has something interesting to add to the discussion. Tune in to Shirky’s talk on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. Eastern to see if he does.

Edit: Here is the description of Shirky’s talk, titled Authority in an Age of Open Access:

The overlapping but not synonymous categories of expertise and authority have been tied up with the concepts of access to canonical information and the right to certain forms of public speech. Who can see what information, and who can talk about it in sanctioned ways, have co-evolved with the mechanisms of access and speech themselves. As the digital revolution alters the cost of ubiquitous access to information, and provides the material basis for every consumer of information to be a producer, the practical possibilities inherent in the current media landscape are now at odds with decades (and in some cases centuries) of assumptions about how expertise and authority interact.


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