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Meet the ethical entrepreneurs mixing law and tech

tech careers

Tom Barraclough studied law and political science at uni, because he always liked language and writing, and says he was particularly interested in “the philosophical side of things”.

And while he doesn’t have any formal qualifications in technology (aside from tinkering with computers in his spare time), he was fascinated by the policy and legal implications arising from new tech.

It was while studying at the University of Otago that Tom met fellow law student Curtis Barnes, who was working on a master’s degree investigating legal and ethical questions around artificial intelligence (AI) – partly motivated by his love of the sci-fi movie Blade Runner!

Investigating deepfakes

When Tom found out about funding available from the New Zealand Law Foundation to support research into law and emerging tech, he reached out to Curtis. The uni friends secured funding and used it to collaborate on a project investigating whether we need new laws to deal with the rise of ‘deepfakes’ (creepily convincing digital media that is actually generated by AI).

This collaboration evolved into a new business that Tom and Curtis founded, called Brainbox. Through Brainbox, they use their unique combination of skills to consult with government and business on questions arising at the intersection of law, policy and technology.

“Finding people with expertise in either of those three areas is relatively easy, but finding people who sit in all of those worlds is very rare and very valuable,” Tom says.

But that skill combo probably won’t remain rare, he adds. In fact, Tom reckons law, policy and tech are all increasingly overlapping areas, and if you’re interested in a career in any one of them, you’ll want to get a handle on all three.

One project that Brainbox has worked on involved leading an initiative called the Action Coalition on Meaningful Transparency (ACT) – a global effort driven by tech companies, human rights and press freedom organisations, academics and investors to address concerns surrounding data use, data privacy and censorship.

Tom’s career advice? Try to find the sweet spot between what you love, what can earn you an income and what can make a difference!

Careers with STEM: Technology
Careers with STEM: Technology

Tom’s pathway

Curtis’ pathway

  • Master of Laws, University of Otago
  • Co-Founder, Brainbox
  • Bachelor of Laws, University of Otago
  • Editor, Journal of AI and Ethics

This article was originally published in Careers with STEM: Technology.


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