In these difficult times, let’s spare a thought for those whose world has been turned upside down by the pandemic crisis. We refer of course to technology futurologists. Take poor Professor Richard Susskind, for example. Six months ago he was creating waves in the legal profession by proposing – shockingly – that many civil claims could be handled remotely online rather than by people turning up in person at court.
Now, in what he described last week as a ‘major unscheduled pilot and experiment’, online justice has become daily reality, beyond his wildest predictions.
So where does this leave the evangelising guru? Giving evidence (remotely, of course) to the Lords constitution committee last week, Susskind found himself uncharacteristically counselling technological caution. Observing that ‘it’s hard to change the wheels on a moving car’, he warned peers against the temptation to rush into implementing new systems. Rather, he would like to see ‘stabilisation of the current system’.
Susskind counselled: ‘We have to be quite modest in what we’re trying to achieve technically in order to keep the system up and running.’ He specifically urged caution about putting Crown court hearings online to clear the backlog: ‘I would be very nervous about having virtual jury trials.’
However, the prolific author and public speaker was able to give participants an object lesson in how to present himself digitally, sporting a smart video-friendly blue suit in front of a correctly angled camera before a wall of bookcases just out of focus enough not to distract. Obiter counted a couple of thousand titles on the shelves: surely they can’t all have been written by members of the Susskind family?