This is a fictional work based in the far future. Its aim is to explore ideas that may one day become part of our reality.
Recap of Chapter One: Elon Turing, managing partner of the AI-enabled law firm, Turing & Partners, has discovered a potential problem with the Koto-Maltese Metals merger and flown to Tokyo to speak to his client, a rare event. Meanwhile his associate, Xian, is meeting with the new deputy GC of key banking client Barclays-HSBC.
Elon Turing opened his eyes and let go of the armrests as the Airbus 538 Hypersonic airliner completed its landing into Tokyo. Flight time from London: four hours and five minutes.
The First Class seats were extremely well-cushioned, but no-one had managed to solve the problem of rapid acceleration followed by an equally stomach-churning deceleration.
Elon wiped the thin sheen of sweat from his forehead. An air steward approached and handed him a fluffy white hand towel, which he took eagerly.
As the plane taxied to the arrival gates at Tokyo Haneda airport Elon activated Marsha, his personal AI.
‘News?’ he asked abruptly.
Noting the tenseness in his voice Marsha responded in Elon’s almost invisible earpiece with a voice ‘she’ knew was likely to be soothing. She informed him that Mrs Koto and her most trusted bengoshi were expecting him. A manned car would pick him up.
She added that Xian, his sole associate, had arrived at the office in London from the South of France where he lived and worked most of the week. Xian would soon be seeing the deputy GC of Barclays-HSBC in his place. There had been no other major piece of information worth mentioning, Marsha estimated, based on a probability analysis of what Elon had in the past regarded as news.
‘Sorry for being brusque, Marsha. As you know, I don’t like flying hypersonic,’ Elon added, breathing a bit more easily now as the plane came to a halt and the passengers had started to disembark.
She noted the judgmental tone. For a millisecond Marsha considered whether she should apologise for booking him on a hypersonic, rather than a normal jet. Perhaps she had made an error?
But, then her memory recalled that Mr Turing had demanded to arrive by lunchtime in Japan. Meeting times took precedence over mild nausea, Marsha’s encyclopaedic profile of Mr Turing said. Of course, if her ‘client’ continued to complain about nausea she may have to re-order the decision tree in her neural network. Working with humans was like that, it was a matter of perpetual adaptation.
Outside the airport it was pouring with rain, as it always did in Japan these days. Tokyo had gone from 200 days of sunshine a year to about 50, just in Elon’s lifetime. The sun was almost continually obscured by huge monsoon-like rain clouds which hung over the spires of this vertical city.
The manned car that picked him up was amusing. Elon hardly ever sat in the back seat of cars. In fact, most cars these days didn’t have ‘back seats’ as such, as there was no driving console.
Japan was a bit different. Despite having been a pioneer in the use of robotics and AI their taxis were still occupied by ‘drivers’, although ‘talkers’ was probably a more accurate description.
Like many other developed nations, Japan had a large segment of the population that were under-employed, given that the maximum legally permissible working week for paid labour outside of the protected professions (which luckily for Elon included lawyers) was only 14 hours.
This was to ensure that everyone who was employable got at least some chance to work for money. Most process-level tasks were now performed by droids, bots and AIs.
There was still plenty of useful, creative and innovative activity for humans to take part in and most humans continued to have rich and fulfilling lives without paid work. But if people wanted to have a good old-fashioned ‘day-job’, with an income rather than the monthly stipend from the Global Progression Fund (GPF), that all developed nations paid into, then those opportunities were limited.
That said, working a day job did have its downsides. Top rates of tax were now set by the OECD Global Framework agreement at 70%, while bottom rate taxes were 50%. Corporate tax was also running at 55%, though SMEs were placed in a special, lower bracket. High taxes were needed to pay for the GPF, which in turn allowed society to depend on our AI and droid friends to do the process work that had always made up about 60% of all human labour and few missed its demise.
There were of course a few ‘process heads’ that social psychologists had identified who felt lost without repetitive labour. To address this some countries had created not-for-profit companies run by the State that enabled people to come to an office everyday to process old-fashioned spread sheets of data from 9AM to 5.30PM. These posts were unpaid, but the people who took them up said they found the work very satisfying, although it was essentially pointless now that AIs could do it in a matter of seconds.
Meanwhile taxi and limousine companies had hit on the idea of hiring people to sit in the self-driving cars in a fancy uniform and simply talk to the passengers to keep them entertained. It was a good earner, especially when you added in the tips. It was so popular that there was a five-year waiting list to get a job like that in Tokyo.
Elon, however, had not been in the mood to make light chit chat about the impending Royal visit by King George VII and his lovely new wife, Arabella Trump. And he didn’t want to talk about his flight. The taxi talker got the message and remained as silent as the EV as it sped along at 200mph in a vast convoy of other self-driving vehicles on the highway from the airport, each one no more than an inch away from the one in front.
Mr Turing had other things on his mind. Why was Maltese Metals deliberately delaying the merger with his client, Koto Metals? Why were the buyers so hung up on a small piece of litigation in South America that had almost no material importance to the deal? Was this some sort poison pill deal that was never going to be consummated to protect Maltese from another takeover by a larger rival?
It was a problem. But it was one he relished. Elon loved discussing legal tactics with his clients face to face, it was one of the joys of the job, which luckily still remained. And, which he guessed always would remain.
Elon arrived at Koto Tower, the tallest building in Tokyo, this week at least. Koto Metals was in a spire battle with their great rival, Honshu Industries, which had an equally massive building half a kilometre away. Every year, one or the other would get their construction droids to add another level or two, further spurring the rival to add three or four in return. The local press called them ‘The Duelling Spires’ and there seemed to be no end in sight.
Elon was led to an elevator by a pair of Honda Security droids. Their mix of fixed smiling faces and intimidating metal composite exoskeletons provided a curious impression. One droid entered the metal cube with him and touched an unseen panel in the wall. It slid back to reveal a series of deep red buttons. The droid touched the bottom one, then turned to stare at his ear. It pointed with a metallic finger.
‘Deactivate your AI, please,’ it stated, its voice programming unsubtle.
Elon nodded and gave Marsha a whispered order. The elevator dropped violently and seemed to descend forever. It began to feel uncomfortably warm.
‘I assumed we would be going up,’ Elon noted out loud to the security droid, which stared back at him and said nothing.
– Obviously skimping on hospitality programming costs, Elon mused, though this time kept the thought to himself.
After getting out of the elevator, Elon was led down a long concrete-walled passage and to a thick ceramic door that swished open. The door was slightly convex in shape. The security droid turned and walked away, leaving him there. Elon looked into the small chamber before him.
Sitting at a small black-lacquered wooden desk was a middle aged Japanese woman, dressed in typical office garb. Standing next to her was a tall Japanese man, Mrs Koto’s bengoshi, Elon assumed. They both bowed slowly as the ceramic door swished closed behind him.
‘A pleasant flight?’ asked Mrs Koto, or rather what was now the remainder of Mrs Koto.
Mrs Koto had died several years ago at the grand age of 134, having led Koto Metals to global status over the five decades she had managed the family business. ‘Mrs Koto Mark II’, as Elon and his fellow partners sometimes referred to her, was an AI hybrid, or more precisely an Artificially Sustained Human or ASH, illegal outside of Japan and South Korea.
Many years before she had died, Mrs Koto and her team had started to train an AI using machine learning. They had taught it her thought and speech patterns, the way she behaved, the things that directed her both consciously and unconsciously. They had taught the AI her memories, filling it with videos, photos and diary entries. Mrs Koto had recited jokes, songs, anecdotes, everything and anything she could possibly recollect about her life and every possible experience she had ever had. It became a facsimile of her life, or at least what she could recall. From this much could be extrapolated by the AI, especially if given enough time to build layer upon layer of knowledge.
Then the AI was introduced to her family and friends and business partners to better understand how she behaved with them. After over 20 years of incredible dedication from her team the AI was effectively taken over by Mrs Koto’s persona. Upon her death it carried on, as her.
Most other countries had banned AI-hybrids, not on the basis that it was unethical, but rather because it created huge legal uncertainty.
Was Mrs Koto a ‘legal person’ as such? Was she making a decision or was it someone else’s line of code? And if it was someone else’s line of code, then who was taking legal responsibility for that? Where did the person end and the code begin?
That was one of ironies of AIs. Although they filled every nook and cranny of modern life, there were not considered ‘legal entities’. Officially, AIs were classified as ‘tools’ and tools cannot have legal rights. Hence the ASH development posed a problem. Most jurisdictions had a simple and elegant solution to the problem: ban hybrids.
Japan’s Supreme Court had felt differently, perhaps because one of the Supreme Court judges was himself an AI-hybrid. In any case, one of the first rules of being a lawyer, Elon reminded himself, was to listen to the client and not to judge. Mrs Koto Mark II was his client and that was all he needed to consider right now.
He took a seat and waited. The bengoshi, Teruma Naito, nodded. A swarm of coloured cubes with script in Japanese and English materialised above the desk, illuminating the otherwise almost unlit subterranean room.
Elon’s lawyer-trained eyes instinctively began to devour what was before him. He paused only to ask permission to open certain document cubes, which after the second request became irrelevant. He was soon too engrossed to ask.
The AI-hybrid, Mrs Koto and her bengoshi, Mr Naito, remained silent as Elon absorbed the documents with his intellect and scanned them for meaning with his long-developed wisdom. Suddenly the documents rushed back into their holo-cube files and then they too vanished. Elon looked up. Mrs Koto was grinning, or rather the android body she had been ‘ported’ into for use this morning was grinning.
‘Surprised?’ she asked.
‘I….’ Elon began, then stopped.
‘The message you kindly have come to deliver is not needed. It is I who need to give you a message,’ Mrs Koto stated. ‘We are delaying them with the South American litigation, not the other way around. It is a decoy. The deal will never happen.’
Elon scratched at his nose. He tried to fathom his client’s logic. He could see no advantage, especially as Mrs Koto had told him directly last month she was looking to sell.
‘I must inform you,’ Mr Naito interjected, ‘we have inside information about Maltese Metals that we will be using to take them over.’
Elon didn’t like the mention of ‘inside information’. He was glad they were in a hermetically sealed chamber underground, far from eavesdropping technology. Thank God as well that lawyer-client privilege still exists, he thought to himself.
‘Their inhouse legal team’s AI is working for us,’ Mrs Koto announced. ‘The due diligence process on Maltese ahead of merger provided us with sufficient cover, one might say, to fully exploit our mole there. Certain sensitive information has been communicated to us from their secure sever under cover of the DD. That is why we accepted their merger proposal to begin with.’
‘But, that’s not possible,’ Elon replied urgently and sat back on his chair. ‘That would go against the First Law of Legal AI.’
‘You have not done your research, Mr Turing. Their AI is also a hybrid, like me. In fact, before he…er…changed….he was a very close friend of mine, shall we say. His loyalty rests with me.’
She continued: ‘We are now to be taken over by Eurasian Composites. Combined we will then take over Maltese. The information we have will help, how should I say, convince Maltese Metal’s board to accept at a greatly reduce price. We have been passed some very compromising information that we would otherwise not have been able to know about.’
‘But surely that’s unethical?’ Elon spluttered. ‘I’m not an expert on Japanese law, but this cannot be…..’
Elon took a deep breath. And that, he said to himself, was why giving legal status and independence to an AI-hybrid was not wise. They weren’t really AIs and they weren’t really human. Perhaps alienation led to a different ethical perspective? Elon considered. Either way, he concluded, this had to stop.
‘I’m sorry. I will have to recuse myself and my law firm from this matter. My apologies,’ Elon stated and started to get up.
‘You will not recuse yourself,’ ordered Mrs Koto and raised a hand, palm up. ‘We are your client. If you abandon us now we would be most displeased.’
Mr Naito grinned, leaned over the desk and handed Elon a piece of paper. Elon stared at the white rectangle in surprise. It was a rare sight in the legal world. It was also handwritten, in ink, he noted.
‘Take it,’ he urged.
‘What is this?’ he asked, deliberately not reading it yet in case he ever needed deniability in the future.
‘Your instructions,’ Mr Naito stated, his grin fading away to be replaced by a deadly serious look.
Elon didn’t remember the journey back to the airport, or even boarding the hypersonic jet back home to London. It was only as the plane was violently decelerating on its landing cycle coming into Heathrow that he was jolted into clear thinking.
Once inside the airport he reactivated Marsha. He had been so stunned he had forgotten she was there.
‘I have urgent news, Mr Turing. Xian and I have been trying to contact you for several hours.’
Elon paused by a long window overlooking the runaways. As he did he felt the sheaf of paper in his inside pocket brush against his shirt.
‘Go on,’ Elon replied, forcing himself to sound less tense than he actually felt. ‘Does Xian want to give me feedback from the meeting? It can’t be that important can it?’
There was a pause while Marsha analysed the questions.
‘I believe it is of critical importance,’ she intoned in his minute earpiece. ‘HSBC-Barclays wishes to inform you that Turing & Partners is off their main panel with immediate effect. All on-going process matters are to be transferred to other firms.’
‘But……..’ Elon started to say and stopped.
Marsha continued: ‘I have already calculated the impact on our revenue and prepared a diversionary press release in case we receive a journo-bot call from the legal press.’
It was their largest client, by quite some distance. That was one of the problems with recent banking consolidation. There were so few global banks left and they had become increasingly obsessed about conflicts, just like the old oil majors had in the 2000s. That helped when you were a favoured firm, but Turing & Partners had become dangerously dependent upon Barclays-HSBC for revenue.
‘What reason did they give?’ Elon asked, though he feared he already knew the answer.
‘The bank’s inhouse department had received news about our ‘extremely poor client service’ and our willingness ‘to entertain conflicts’ from one of its own major clients. Apparently the Deputy GC had received the message on their way to our office. We don’t know who the bank’s client is, but it is logical to presume it must represent significant material value to them.’
‘Just as I was coming back,’ Elon noted out loud.
Marsha let the rhetorical statement float in the air. Elon paused for a moment. Then a look of determination spread across his face.
‘Recall all the partners to the office. All of them. Right now. I want them there in person. We going to have a council of war,’ Elon stated, moving down the long corridor to passport control, his pace purposeful now.
‘War council?’ Marsha asked, uncertainly. ‘I cannot find that term in my law firm thesaurus. Is that a kind of partners’ meeting I have not encountered before, Mr Turing?’
‘Watch and learn, Marsha, watch and learn,’ Elon told her and hurried onward.