IBL Center Speaker Series: The Case for Safety-Critical Software Professionals

November 14, 2019 - 12:30pm to 1:30pm
Boyd Law Building Room 245
Bryan Choi, OSU
The Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center

Software engineers have long been denied the label of “professional.” As a matter of law, this designation carries more than a vanity status; it bestows a special presumption of judicial deference to the professional’s judgment against complaints of malpractice. This issue has returned to the fore because the software industry has renewed its efforts to secure recognition as a “profession,” even as it has come under increasing scrutiny for the real-world harms it perpetuates.

To decide whether software engineers should be professionals demands a better theory of professional malpractice. In this talk, Prof. Choi argues that the need for professional distinction arises only when a socially essential occupation is expected to cause bad outcomes in the course of routine practice. Despite best efforts, doctors will lose patients; lawyers will lose trials. In other words, the professional designation flows from the nature of the practice, not the attributes of the practitioner. 

This new framework clarifies that not all software engineering is alike. Safety-critical systems offer an especially compelling example where professional status is needed, because expertise alone is incapable of preventing tort-eligible injuries.

Professor Bryan H. Choi is jointly appointed with the College of Law and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The question that drives his research is software safety: how do we make software safer for ordinary people? His recent work has focused on the challenges to constructing a workable software liability regime. He has also written extensively on data privacy, particularly on issues involving digital identity and online anonymity.

Prior to joining Ohio State, Professor Choi was a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition (CTIC) at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Before that, he served as the Director of Law and Media at the Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School.

Professor Choi received his undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Harvard University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. Before law school, he worked as a software developer on Army Knowledge Online, the largest social media platform before Facebook. Following law school, he practiced at a firm in Washington, D.C., and clerked for the Honorable Leonard I. Garth of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and for the Honorable William C. Bryson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.


Hosted by The Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center: uniting students, academics and practitioners in intellectual property, antitrust, and corporate law.