In Jeff Ward’s office hangs a vibrant, Basquiat-style painting depicting a human and a robot side-by-side. It’s called “Living in Harmony,” and it sums up Jeff’s current work: using the tools of the law to shape technology in ways that empower and ennoble people.
As Director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology, Jeff aims not only to help lawyers thrive in tech-driven legal practice but also to facilitate Duke’s leadership at the intersection of law and technology. The Center does this with programs such as the Duke Law Tech Lab, a pre-accelerator for legal technology companies, and the Access Tech Tools initiative, a program to help students and Duke’s community partners to employ both human-centered design thinking and available technologies to create tools to enhance access to legal services.
In his courses, such as Law & Policy Lab: Blockchain and Frontier Robotics & AI: Law & Ethics, Jeff and his students explore the technologies that are here, the emerging technologies that are near, and the frontier technologies that make us say “Oh, my dear!” And while it’s practical for Duke students to be trained in the law of tomorrow, Jeff sees the most value in asking questions about the law of generations to come. For example, how can we maintain our cultural values and improve our lives with technology—robots, drones, virtual reality, blockchain-enabled technologies, artificial intelligence and neural networks, for example—so rapidly changing our world? And how can the levers of the law be pulled to help us achieve our best ends?
Only by anticipating technological and cultural changes and learning to speak the languages of other disciplines, Jeff believes, can the law help to shape our future and empower us as agents of change.