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Law, authority, and respect: three waves of technological disruption

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-40
Number of pages36
JournalLaw, Innovation and Technology
Issue number1
Early online date7 Mar 2022
Accepted/In press5 Feb 2022
E-pub ahead of print7 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


King's Authors


This article identifies and discusses three waves of technological disruption to the authority of law and, concomitantly, to the demand for respect for the law. The first wave disrupts the claim made by national legal systems to recognise their authority and the demand that their decrees and decisions should be respected. This disruption, which is particularly associated with cybertechnologies and actions in cyberspace, is likely to occur whenever technologies develop significant new regulatory spaces in which humans (or their extensions) transact and interact (such as the metaverse). The second wave disrupts the debate about the demand that the law should be respected, simply because it is the law and any reservations notwithstanding. Traditionally, this demand is justified by reference to a picture of law as a rule-based order or as an aspiration for just order. However, this is disrupted by the prospect of technologies that promise to ‘do governance’ better than humans with rules, this generating a picture of law as governance by smart technologies and, in opposition, a picture of law as self-governance by humans. Instead of a debate between two modes of governance by rules, we now have a debate between various modes of human governance by rules and governance by technologies. The third wave disrupts the conceptual scheme that underlies our thinking about the authority of, and respect for, the law. In particular, the picture of law as governance by smart technologies throws into doubt the relevance of questions about the authority of law (when law is no longer governance by humans and governance by rules) and about respect for the law (when the reservations that we have about governance by fellow humans are no longer applicable).

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