Should humans be allowed to practice law?

Judges are known for disliking mandatory sentencing laws; generally, they hold that a human being is better able to understand the nuances of a case, and shouldn’t be prevented from using his or judgment to give more or less lenient sentences depending on circumstance. But initial research, though far from conclusive, has indicated that judges are notoriously bad at this sort of thing. Instead of allowing proper considerations to govern sentencing, factors like how long it’s been since the judge has eaten[1], the race of the suspect[2], and the sex of the victim[3], seem to have much more effect on sentencing than such proper measures as the severity of the crime and the likelihood of re-offense.

Similarly, the justice system is notoriously biased against poor defendants, and juries are terrible at distinguishing trustworthy testimony from untrustworthy testimony[4], relying upon such factors as the appearance of the testifier, and testifier’s command of English and emotional reactions.

Recently, IBM developed an artificially intelligent “lawyer.[5]” It doesn’t do much besides the legal scutwork, the boring research and paper-sorting that lawyers tend to find tedious and deadening. So on that level, it’s probably doing what people going back to Marx hoped mechanization would do, which is take away the worst jobs (although Marx and Russell’s hope that this would free people up for lives of leisure requires a large-scale political economy project which may or may not materialize.) But what if we could create, a la the Deep Blue project, a super-lawyer that found the best legal strategies and could argue the strongest case.

Combine this with an AI judge and jury and, at least potentially, there could be an increase in justice: the AI judge or jury would not sentence based on its hunger or its emotional manipulation by tears or the heartfelt sincerity of (often faulty) eye-witnesses. If both defendant and prosecutor had access to the same AI law programs, there wouldn’t be an issue of a wealthy defendant having an unfair advantage, and a poor defendant an unfair disadvantage. And with a good AI jury, we could avoid the sorts of legal tricks that rely on irrelevant appeals in order to win cases.

It’s a way off, but it at least is a possibility that we can hope for automated justice that lacks the rather nasty implications of letting biased, prejudiced, easily manipulated, and cranky-because-hungry humans decide matters of such importance.

[1] http://www.pnas.org/content/108/17/6889.full

[2] http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/shadow-report-to-the-united-nations-human-rights-committee-regarding-racial-disparities-in-the-united-states-criminal-justice-system/

[3] http://cad.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/10/0011128714530826.full.pdf?ijkey=BRpzSvqlj4KILoG&keytype=ref

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/08/31/can-we-trust-eyewitness-identifications/juries-dont-understand-eyewitness-testimony

[5] http://futurism.com/artificially-intelligent-lawyer-ross-hired-first-official-law-firm/

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