Christopher S. Yoo

What incentives would foster more collaboration between the law and STEM fields, in either academic or business/entrepreneurial settings?

Like any new interdisciplinary effort, the burgeoning field bridging law and STEM needs focal points to help build a sense of community. One goal would be to create fora that allow like-minded scholars to exchange ideas about current research and future directions in the field. Another goal would be to legitimize efforts in the eyes of other scholars by signaling the importance and maturation of the field. But perhaps most importantly, such focal points would encourage young scholars to pursue research at the intersection of law and STEM and give them confidence that there will be institutions where they can present and publish their work, as well as a robust group of scholars who can serve as mentors, tenure reviewers, and potential collaboration partners.

The two Bridges conferences that Northwestern has sponsored thus play a critical role in encouraging this movement to grow. As an alumnus of Northwestern Law, I am proud to see my alma mater be a leader in this important area.

It is the same reason that for the past five years, Penn Law has sponsored an interdisciplinary conference spanning law and computer science. Each year, this conference has made it a point to include junior scholars and newly minted entry-level faculty in order to encourage them to join our community. We have also always included key policymakers and business leaders to broaden the discussion to include new audiences.

Finally, Northwestern, Penn, and Stanford have decided to create an annual Junior Faculty Forum for Law and STEM in which young scholars can present their works in progress and receive comments from senior scholars in the field. The inaugural conference occurred at Penn Law on October 6–7, 2017. The conference will rotate among the three schools in future years.

Together, we hope that these efforts will foster the emergence of law and STEM as the next breakthrough interdisciplinary field.

Provide an example of a situation in which a Law–STEM collaboration aided a project or where the lack of collaboration between these two disciplines impeded a project.

The National Science Foundation’s new emphasis on translational research illustrates how the lack of collaboration between law and STEM can impede a project. All too often, technologies that the NSF has funded tend to sit on the shelf undeployed. The barriers are not technical: The results of the research tend to satisfy their goals. Instead, the barriers tend to be legal, political, social, and economic. The NSF is increasingly embracing projects that include research team members that can provide the interdisciplinary expertise needed to overcome those barriers.

A good example of a project that benefited from collaboration between Law and STEM is an NSF grant I am currently working on, “Security and Privacy for Cyber-Physical Systems.” The project is driven by the insight that end users are increasingly using systems that are not entirely digital. Instead, emerging systems tend more and more to include sensors that incorporate data from the physical world. Prominent examples that we are studying include autonomous vehicles and medical devices. These technologies pose significant legal challenges. Cyber-physical systems (CPS) gather data that can be more sensitive than that gathered by previous systems. In addition, they share those data with other CPS deployments in ways that raise additional privacy concerns. Most significantly, the architects of these systems did not design them with hostile environments in mind. As a result, all of them have weak security, as demonstrated by the YouTube videos of people sitting in passenger seat of a car using a laptop to control its major systems.

CPS systems thus raise difficult questions about privacy and security. As a result, architects must consider what constitutes a properly designed product from a security standpoint. This includes situations where security is an emergent property that arises either from the interaction of multiple components each of which appears to have been designed properly or from data that the product has incorporated through experience. This raises complicated questions of causation and apportionment of liability. In addition, the law must determine the scope of liability for security flaws that emerge or are discovered after the product is sold. The privacy problems are similarly complex and benefit from a collaborative approach.

Technological change recently has altered business models in the legal field, and these changes will continue to affect the practice of law itself. How can we, as educators, prepare law students to meet the challenges of new technology throughout their careers?

The growing importance of technology is creating the need for new approaches to training students. Just as the success of the law and economics movement created the need for a new type of professional with advanced training in both of those disciplines, the increasing significance of technology is creating a burgeoning demand for graduates with expertise in both law and STEM.

I am proud to be affiliated with two institutions that have served as leaders in this regard. Northwestern’s new Master of Science in Law (MSL) degree provides STEM professionals with advanced legal training to enable them to operate effectively in a world increasingly subject to regulation.

Penn offers an even broader range of programs. Similar to Northwestern’s MSL degree, Penn offers a Master of Law (ML) degree that provides interested future technologists with graduate-level training in law. The ML program is open both to STEM undergraduates as well as to engineering graduate students interested in undertaking the program as a joint degree. At the same time, Penn offers joint degree programs for both undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields to obtain expedited access to the JD. STEM undergraduates can submatriculate into the JD program. At the graduate level, another joint degree program permits students to earn both a JD and a master degree from Penn’s engineering school. Particularly helpful is the fact that Penn’s engineering school has two separate master degree programs, one designed for students with no prior exposure to engineering (known as the Master of Computer and Information Technology or MCIT) and a more traditional program for students who studied engineering in college (known as the Master of Science of Engineering or MSE). The net result is that regardless of whether the interested person is a graduate or undergraduate student or is a future technologist or a future lawyer, Penn has a program to suit their needs.

In addition, Penn Law offers a wide range of innovative curricular opportunities. The Detkin Technology and Intellectual Property Legal Clinic provides students with live client experience with respect to cutting-edge technologies. Special units as part of the clinic and the engineering entrepreneurship program bring law and engineering students together to simulate the types of interactions they will enjoy in the future. A new public interest organization called Students for Technological Progress does pro bono work in the tech space. We also teach advanced seminars around such topics as the Giles S. Rich Patent Moot Court Competition, in which Penn is the defending national champion.

Christopher S. Yoo is the John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication and Computer & Information Science at University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has emerged as one of the nation’s leading authorities on law and technology. His research focuses on how the principles of network engineering and the economics of imperfect competition can provide insights into the regulation of electronic communications. He has been a leading voice in the “network neutrality” debate that has dominated Internet policy over the past several years. He is also pursuing research on copyright theory as well as the history of presidential power.