Research Agenda

Our research agenda for legal priorities research is divided into three parts. In the first part, we argue that cause prioritization in legal research is both important and neglected, provide an overview of our philosophical foundations, and describe our methodological approach. In the second part, we present our current focus areas (namely, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, institutional design, and meta-research), identify promising research projects, and provide an overview of relevant literature. In the final part, we discuss two cause areas for further engagement (namely, space governance and animal law).

Download our research agenda

Legal Priorities Research

We aim to establish “legal priorities research” as a new research field. Legal priorities research consists of two core elements. First, determining which problems legal researchers should work on in order to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. We refer to this as “meta-level research.” Second, conducting research on the identified problems, which we call “object-level research.”

Our approach to legal priorities research is influenced by our concern for the long-term future. The associated view in moral philosophy has been referred to as longtermism, which holds that the primary determinant of the value of our actions today is how those actions affect the very long-term future. Longtermism is based on two assumptions. First, when assessing the moral value of our actions, all consequences matter equally, independent of when or where they occur. This suggests that we should not only consider the welfare of our current generation, but also that of future generations. Second, in expectation, the future is vast in size. If the human species does not go extinct prematurely, there could be millions of future generations. Together these two assumptions suggest that an actor who wants to maximize welfare should focus on positively shaping the long-term future, 100 or even 1,000+ years from now.

Legal priorities research can also be viewed as a subset of global priorities research. Global priorities research is a novel research field that aims to determine how individuals and institutions should spend their limited resources in order to improve the world by as much as possible. Relevant research organizations include the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford University, and the Forethought Foundation. While global priorities research is located at the intersection of philosophy and economics, legal priorities research focuses primarily on legal studies, although it is still highly interdisciplinary.

Focus Areas

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Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) could significantly shape the long-term future. It could pose existential risks for humanity, or produce benefits of astronomical scale. There seems to be a general consensus among EA organizations that positively shaping the development of advanced AI is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Even though the law could play an important role in shaping the risks and and potential realized, there is surprisingly little legal research addressing the long-term implications of AI.

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Synthetic Biology and Biorisk

Synthetic biology – for example, in the form of engineered pathogens – might be one of the highest existential risks this century. Even though the current COVID-19 crisis has significantly increased the resources and attention dedicated to natural pandemics, risks due to engineered pandemics and other biotechnology remain relatively neglected – especially within legal research.

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Institutional Design

While other focus areas directly address specific fields, there are promising measures to tackle a wide range of problems indirectly. Since we may be unaware of some future threats or unable to address them now, it is desirable to improve our institutional capacity and capability to tackle many different future threats. This includes improving institutional design, judicial decision-making, and the impact, evaluation, and uncertainty of laws – especially with future generations in mind.

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Since choosing the right research project is one of the most important factors that determines the positive impact of a legal researcher’s work, we are also engaging in a number of meta-research projects. Instead of competing with the existing organizations, our research in this area is significantly more specific as we identify and tackle problems that legal researchers encounter when prioritizing causes and specific projects, such as whether to focus on international, comparative, or national law.

Ongoing Research Projects

Legal longtermism

The challenges of artificial judicial decision-making for liberal democracy

Cognitive underpinnings of legal longtermism

Towards a dual-process theory of criminalization

Survey on legal priorities

Legal theory survey

A legal definition of AI

AI risk survey

Corporate governance of artificial intelligence in the public interest

AI certification

Long-term challenges of AI for the judiciary

EA and climate law

Reviewing the constitutional protection of future generations worldwide

Valuing future generations: On the implications of experimental intergenerational jurisprudence

Longtermist institutional design and policy

Intergenerational legitimacy

Algorithmic decision-making and discrimination in developing countries

Discrimination’s effect on future generations

Associative normativity, historical accountability, and the beneficiary pays principle

Nature urbanized: Ecological management of the spatial commons

Defining the public interest

Representing the interests of future generations in the U.S. democratic process

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