Online platforms already facilitate legal processes—such as this example from Singapore—and help people to locate legal services and information about justice processes and options. Impressive steps to digitize judicial systems have been taken in countries as far afield as Australia, Pakistan and Turkey.
Adding a layer of complexity, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the machine learning that helps achieve this, are now increasingly touted as a new frontier in justice sector reform. This technology, argues proponents, provides a possible solution for everything from helping courts assess risk, to assisting judges determine jail time, and even to replace judges and attorneys entirely.
At a more digestible level for the tech-cautious, machine learning offers an innovative and cost-effective solution to facilitating legal case analysis. Application of AI for court case analysis is already being trialed here in Asia. Late in 2017, LegitQuest launched an artificial intelligence-enabled search tool in India—combining AI, machine learning and data analytics—that its makers claim allows users to browse through extremely large volumes of legal case records (in this case, all of the judgments of the Indian Supreme Court since 1950) and that can provide relevant results in seconds.
AI is also increasingly behind platforms that facilitate online dispute resolution. Simply put, according to one article, “participants can select any tool they consider appropriate for the resolution of their conflict and use the tools in any order or manner they desire, or they can be guided through the process.”
AI is heralded by some as the “future of dispute resolution”, albeit with a few caveats: this disproportionately disadvantages those on low income who have less access to such high technology (and need more assistance to maximize its advantages when they do); firms or non-profit organizations with low income clients may not be able to take advantage of these emerging (and expensive) technologies on a par with larger firms; and then there is the question as to whether AI assistance with procedural work will dis-incentivize junior lawyers from taking up such pro bono work?
(It is worth a quick note that AI is not the only high-tech route being explored to facilitate dispute resolution. Here is an interesting example from Argentina of a startup entrepreneur applying blockchain for dispute adjudication.)
And what of ethics—a traditional challenge for the justice system, whether online or offline? A recent Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs essay suggests that there is a race to implement AI in justice systems without due consideration of serious ethical considerations. For example, machines may not apply the racial, political and other prejudices that have dogged human judicial decision making, but what is to say that machines won’t also introduce bias? What will the impact be for overall transparency of the justice sector when critical decisions are based on machine-developed models?
One solution is in more open data and algorithmic transparency:
“Police departments, judicial systems, and private contractors must be encouraged to make their data available to the research community, allowing experts to observe which key features drive judicial outcomes. This will ensure that algorithms determining an individual’s guilt or innocence have easily identifiable rationalities behind their decisions.”
The justice sector has become a fast growing field for AI technology and research, attracting established business as well as opportunistic start ups. One key issue going forward will be the extent that AI is developed in a socially responsible manner in order to live up to its potential to reduce costs, time, and bias.
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