PhD Regulating technological innovations – A law and economics perspective

Updated: 11 days ago
Deadline: 05 Jan 2021

Technological changes in the globalising world impact economic markets and legal systems now more intensely and rapidly than ever before. Disruptive technologies such as the telephone or cars previously took decades to make it into mainstream society. These technologies therefore afforded society and the law the time to rise to these new challenges. By contrast now, in our globalised age, new technologies are phased-in more quickly and consequently market transitions are occurring at a much higher pace changing them rapidly and fundamentally. This brings with it tremendous challenges for society, users of such technology and the regulator.

But one example of such rapid technological innovations are self-driving cars. Autonomous driving is rapidly being developed and ever more capable systems are being found on the streets. In the US, cars are being life-tested while in the EU safety standards are often constituting an impediment. It is the task of the legislator to keep society at large but also especially individual users safe by ensuring that the products that are being marketed are safe to use. In the digital world this also requires that the products are also protected from cyber attacks.

Legislators generally tend to react to new developments in an ad hoc fashion and consequently struggle to regulate these technologies in transition as they constitute ‘moving targets’. The reason is of course that the legislative process is slow and that the law assimilates existing paradigms and embeds them in lasting institutions (mandates, principles, rights and duties). In doing so, it vests and upholds objectives of the past – the codified majority will of past legislatures, thus becoming a conservative force in society. This disconnection between the laws and the reality entails that regulation is generally ‘off-target’ and causes a detriment to society. Products must also be sufficiently protected from cyber attacks. Cyber security itself is a field of tremendously rapid development and a moving target. Legislators therefore need to ensure that producers deliver a high level of continuous protection so that self-driving cars are not being - for example - hijacked for terrorist attacks.

This PhD project analyses the challenges that technological innovation (in particular with regard to self-driving cars) places for regulation and how to incentivise companies to have the most secure systems in place. It does so from a Law & Economics perspective. Law & Economics has been recognized as one of the most important innovations in legal scholarship during the second half of the 20th century. It is an interdisciplinary subject that brings together two great fields of study and therefore facilitates a better understanding of both disciplines. Law & Economics extends our perception of Law as a ‘tool for justice’ to one of setting incentives for changing behaviour and an instrument to attain policy objectives including efficiency. It therefore offers invaluable insights into regulation.

The PhD candidate will be embedded within the research of the Cyber Security Noord- Nederland project led by the University of Groningen and supported by Provincie Groningen. This research position will be under the supervision of Prof. Stefan E. Weishaar MSc, LL.M., Professor of Law and Economics and Prof. Jeanne Pia Mifsud Bonnici, Professor of European Technology Law and Human Rights.

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