Should law be more like software? Some scholars say yes, others say no. But what if the two are more alike than we realize?
Lawyers write statutes and contracts. Programmers write software. Both of them use words to do things in the world. The difference is that lawyers use natural language with all its nuances and ambiguities, while programmers use programming languages, which promise the rigor of mathematics. Could legal interpretation be more objective and precise if it were more like software interpretation, or would it give up something essential in the attempt?
CPU, Esq. explodes the idea that law can solve its problems by turning into software. It uses ideas from the philosophy of language to show that software and law are already more alike than they seem, because software also rests on social foundations. Behind the apparent exactitude of 1s and 0s, programmers and users are constantly debating the meanings of programs, just as lawyers and judges are constantly debating the meanings of legal texts. Law can learn from software, and software can learn from law. But law cannot become what it thinks software is -- because not even software actually works that way.
Currently under contract with Oxford University Press, CPU, Esq. is the product of two decades of research on the relationship between law and software, and it will change the way you think about them both.
James Grimmelmann is Professor of Law at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School. He holds degrees in computer science and in law, has worked as a programmer and as a law professor, and is at the forefront of the movement to bring the two fields together.