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002 - Interview with John W. Maly on his novel Juris Ex Machina

We sit down with author and lawyer, John W. Maly, to talk about his new hard science fiction legal thriller, Juris Ex Machina.

  • June 27th, 2024
  • Episode:01-002
  • Host: Patrick Burrows
  • Guest: John W. Maly

Show Description

We sit down with author and lawyer, John W. Maly, to talk about his new hard science fiction legal thriller, Juris Ex Machina. <p> In this wide-ranging discussion we talk about John's new book, the prison-industrial system, how AI will affect patent law, how to get out of traffic tickets, and the potential of the legal concept of "corporate personhood" one day being applied to AI. </p> <p> See the full transcript and show notes at: https://oxygenleaks.com/interviews/maly-juris <p>


Patrick Burrows:

So first, tell us a little bit about your past. How did you get here? How did you arrive here in this place in your life as a science fiction author?

John W. Maly:

So I didn't write fiction for a really long time. I was a computer engineer and I worked in software and then I worked in hardware. I did some creative writing classes in high school, but kind of forgot about them. But along the way I was always sort of fascinated with AI. When I was in undergrad, I studied computer engineering and psychology and AI ideas kept popping up on the side of both majors. And then in grad school when I was at Stanford, I was writing AIs to play strategy games against each other. So that was the first time I really got to actually mess with AIs. And it was kind of fascinating, but at the time it was a cool thing to talk about, but it wasn't really, didn't have a lot of applicability in the outside world.

And when I went to law school, I ended up getting assigned this 1959 legal journal article that was essentially positing that all laws could be written in the forms of logical equations. And coming from a software background that was very enticing, it was very clear to me how you could have these floating point numbers for each one of these conditions being satisfied and you could absolutely do this by computer. And that when combined with the sort of forensic psychology issues that haunt us today, which is that you have human juries that are very susceptible to vivid imagery and emotional appeal. In criminal cases, it's been shown that if you've got someone and they're wearing the jail jumpsuit and they're sitting in the defendant's docket the jury is already predisposed against them. So it seemed like a logical thought exercise to pursue that further.

I ended up later taking some creative writing classes and getting into it and then really started the novel in a writing certificate program that I took. So that's assumed a life of its own.

What's interesting is now you already have legal systems, like Brazil is talking about, incorporating open AI into some of its procedures. And it's developing rapidly. So I've always been fascinated with AI and more recently in my life started writing creatively and that's sort of a logical marriage of the two.

Patrick Burrows:

Obviously, AI has recently exploded with the large language models and it's definitely captured the attention of the world right now. Back in the day it was more of a novelty in some cases, but also useful. But before we dive into that, before we get there, you started off your career as a computer scientist / computer engineer and then you made the jump obviously into law. What was that? What attracted you to that?

John W. Maly:

That's a great question. Yeah, I think from an engineering perspective, it's not a very attractive vocation, but went into computer engineering, it was right around the time that there were just kind of increasing layoffs and outsourcing to other countries, and there was this sort of layoff axe that kept swinging and getting closer every time. And meanwhile, as an engineer, there were some patents I was an inventor on, and I was working with these patent attorneys on a regular basis. You would talk to these guys, and they would be off on their boat in the Caribbean with a satellite connection. There was this one guy, I remember he had a compound in Nevada.

He worked from there. And I remember thinking to myself, here I am in this cubicle and if I stay in this cubicle, I'm going to still be in it in 10 years and my cell will be slightly different. And then I'm working with these guys who just kind of do what they want, and they use work to fund it.

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Juris Ex Machina
book cover for Juris Ex Machina
John W. Maly