Projects Funded

Applications opened on 24 August 2016.  Details of all projects funded under the NZLF Information Law and Policy Project are provided here and updated as and when projects are approved under this special research fund.

Artificial Intelligence and Law in New Zealand

Principal investigators: Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan (Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, Faculty of Law, University of Otago), Associate Professor Ali Knott (Department of Computer Science, University of Otago), and Associate Professor James Maclaurin (Department of Philosophy, University of Otago)

Research grant awarded: Provisional award of $337,217 approved, with a further tranche to come.

Project description:
The proposed research involves a three-year multidisciplinary research study evaluating legal and policy implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for New Zealand. The study will address general themes and challenges associated with AI and will contain several specific sub-themes. The major research questions will relate to:

  • challenges posed by autonomous and semi-autonomous machines to notions of responsibility and culpability;
  • questions of transparency and scrutability posed by decision-making algorithms, with particular reference to the criminal justice system;
  • questions relating to employment, and in particular the replacement of human jobs by AI; and
  • questions of ‘machine morality’, and the normative rules with which autonomous machines will be programmed.


‘Smart Contracts’ and the Digitalisation of Law

Principal investigator: Dr James Every-Palmer (Stout Street Chambers, Wellington)

Research grant awarded: $19,250.

Project description:
The proposed research will assess the work being done on “smart contracts” (that is, contracts that run as computer code) including the development of formal programming languages for contracts, and consider whether this work could be used to facilitate the digitalisation of the law, particularly legislation. The study will survey current smart contract developments, identify potential opportunities for, and limitations of, these technologies, and as a case study, consider the potential for smart contracts to facilitate the digitalisation of the law, particularly legislation.


Regulation of New Technology: Institutions and Processes

Principal investigator: Dr James Every-Palmer (Stout Street Chambers, Wellington)

Research grant awarded: $22,250.

Project description:
The goal of this study is to consider which institutions and processes are most appropriate for accommodating new technologies into New Zealand’s regulatory and legal frameworks. The research will map the kinds of issues which new technologies commonly give rise to; consider the current approach to accommodating new technologies; and look at alternative institutional and procedural options based on first principles and the experience of other countries. New technologies and associated business models such as bitcoin, drones, Uber, Airbnb, autonomous vehicles, grid scale battery technologies and digital rights management give rise to a wide variety of regulatory issues. The proposed study will seek to understand what overarching lessons can be learnt about the appropriate regulatory institutions and processes for accommodating such technologies.


Regulating Digital Currencies That Use Blockchain Technology

Principal investigator: Associate Professor Alexandra Sims (University of Auckland – Business School)

Research grant awarded: $52,467.

Project description:
This project will explore the way in which law should be developed and provide a framework of best practice-recommendations for how blockchain technology in the banking sector should be regulated. Blockchain technology is poised to disrupt and revolutionise a number of industries, not least the finance industry. Blockchain technology allows the creation of a robust, decentralised method of recording and confirming transactions through a peer consensus process, as opposed to the longstanding practice of using a centralised platform such as a bank or credit card provider to verify transactions. This innovation eliminates the traditional middleman and gate keepers such as banks. A fundamental characteristic of blockchain systems is that transactions are made using a ‘cryptocurrency’, in which the identities of involved parties are masked by way of encryption therefore allowing payments that are anonymous and secure. The project aims to provide a framework that can be applied in practice by the legislature and thus the regulators, the project team is interdisciplinary and comprises a mix of legal and banking/finance academics.


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