Judge in a Box: Can Artificial Intelligence have the final say in court?

The title might raise some high expectations. Yet, to be honest, It’s more of a shower-thought I felt the need to expand and hear more opinions on it.

In my defense I am a Machine Learning Hobby-ist. However, I do not have any experience with Law. Actually, I’ve never stepped inside a court and I had to make some research on how it works.

Who knew judges are not all bound by contract to have the same socially awkward haircut?

Shouldn’t we talk about this in like…2100?

Artificial Intelligence is booming right now in almost every area of our lives. Machine Learning is no longer a word for geeky entourages. It’s on news almost half as often as Trump is, and that’s a lot! With all this technology, programmers and entrepreneurs can start to work their brains off in easing our lives.

Unfortunately (or not) computers are not even close of doing creative tasks. Mozart and Bob Ross works are safe, as human creativity is far superior for now. So in that spirit, let’s try to replace the job of Guilty or Not Guilty and make it give a reasonable and legal punishment.

It shouldn’t be too hard, right? Well, reality is a bit harsher as we’ll soon see but no obstacle is too tall for the smart minds of the future.

That’s why we shouldn’t ask the question: “Will a computer be able to judge a case?” but rather focus on “Should we allow for it to happen?”.


Wait! Wait! So now every lawyer will work in a terminal in his very own cubicle??

Of course not! Computers are more human friendly than ever, and the future is only going to get better. Let’s think a little how all this should work.

Before the actual trial there will be a big stack of papers that should be scanned and somehow fed to RoboJudge. We’re talking about pleadings (the actual complaint, the defendant’s answer to it, other replies and counter claims), motions, depositions (out of court statements under oath) and other relevant papers.

He should already have his inner desk full of thick folders and files, many of them in contradiction with each other. On top of this, though some are cold hard facts, many are just what some guy sworn to be true. All this only gets more complicated when the trial begins.


> The Trial

Imagine the court room as tall and imposing as it ever was. The lawyers prepare their papers with great care as they rehearse their act as subtle as possible. It’s just like we’ve seen in thousands of movies since childhood. But this time, when the door opens widely there’s no bossy man in a long black dress. It’s a random guy, wearing a light blue shirt or even a hoodie. He hastely goes in front of the room, opens the lid of the laptop and presses enter. In about 2–3 seconds it boots and RoboJudge opens his eyes and ears. It’s ready to take care of another difficult case.

We’re now talking about two new sources of information. Evidence and witnesses. And both can be cross-examined by the opposite side, trying to invalidate them. RoboJudge carefully listens to their every word, sigh and ‘uhm’. It rigorously watches every millimetrical micro-expression the witness tries to hide from the camera(s). The AI might even throw a few questions now and then if it finds it fit. Yet, this should be quite rare. Don’t forget. He’s the smartest in the room. He knows the law by heart and had heard of millions of past cases, both civil and criminal.

After a few hours and megabytes of new information, the trial has come to an end. RoboJudge is buffering as every person in the room has their eyes fixed on the screen, waiting for the final sentence. Tension. We hope no Blue Screen Error will occur yet again. Or worse, Windows updates. After almost half a minute our AI happily returns the result. Furthermore, he has a list with all the broken laws, and the reason for its every decision. It’s so clear even the defendant admits his mistakes as he breaks into tears.

People rise as they frenetically applaud the genius machine. One more amazingly tough case solved.


I object, your honor! That’s real life, not Futurama!

Ok, ok. It won’t be a laptop. We can’t put our hopes on one internal microphone and a SD cam. But the software is (or will be) do-able. Trust me! This part might be a little technical now and then but bear with me. Maybe I actually make sense.

> Learning phase

Before entering the court room, RoboJudge was extensively trained. He has the knowledge of a hundred judges put together. For this he has in memory all the laws he upholds and protects. Moreover, if even a word gets changed inside the law, he’s getting notified, and changes his way of taking decisions.

For this to happen, let’s assume the laws are deterministic. Crystal clear. No excuses.

However, the magic comes from the fact that it was also trained thousands and thousands of past cases. He knows every detail in them, every proof and testimony by heart. (Decision Trees and Random Forests might do the trick. Deep learning? Who knows what our future master-mind programmer will come up with?)

In a nutshell, RoboJudge’s Machine Learning algorithm would train using the past cases. It will also have some clear strong boundaries, decided by the law. All he has now to do is to gather information from the new case and use its statistical mumbo-jumbo to give a clear result.


>Interpreting new information

Gathering is partially solved with present technology. Every written proof can be scanned and read using an OCR software (picture to actual text file). The spoken proofs coming from both witnesses and lawyers should be more difficult to handle, but we’re getting there. Apple’s Siri and the new-to-come Amazon Echo should be the living proof speech-to-text it’s not a dead end.

What should I do with all this information?? would a normal software say. But not RoboJudge. He can interpret all this using technologies like NLP(Neuro-Linguistic Programming), Deep Learning, Word2Vec and whatever smart stuff will be in trend in that period.

Even today, it should recognize lots of yummy stuff like: which person we’re talking about in each sentence, which noun is actually a location and where that is on the map, recognize objects and sentiments to some extent and so on.


>Fact or fiction?

The real challenge is differencing facts from suppositions and truth from lie. As far as I could guess our Judge could catch lies with a combination of:

~Logical nonsense that might appear when inventing stuff

~Logical fallacies, that are not necessarily lies but more like irrelevant when we try to make a point.

~Facial expressions and micro-expressions (Dr. Cal Lightman style!)

~Voice inflexions

~Being countered by another person that is more trusted by the system

And even if we could define lies, circumstantial evidence is even a worse headache.

In the end, do we cheer or do we boo?

Everything is amazing.

RoboJudge concluded the correct sentence. Additionally, he raised up some small broken laws that even our lawyers weren’t aware of. He elegantly ignored all the logical fallacies the lawyers tried to make. It just stopped recording all this sentimental nonsense. It even concluded some witness is a liar and threw him out. (Or killed him with his lasers. Did I mention this cool feature?)

It never gets sick. There would never be a conflicted sentence, unless the evidence is unclear, in which case it could ask for a further meeting. It can never be blackmailed, scared and it would be as cold as ice when an emotionally-filled story is told.

However, we must not forget there are always some downsides.

RoboJudge is a little straight-minded. What about bugs and other weaknesses? Fooling such a system would cost big money on black market. And we may not even be aware of that.

Also he has a heart of ice (or sillicon, some would say). Will he take the same measure on a mother with three children that swears it won’t happen again and on someone who shows no remorse? If yes, wouldn’t the lawyers leverage that?

Will it give sentences only to respect the word of law but forget the main point of reintegrating people in society?

I’m not even entering the futuristic subject of whether real Intelligence is achievable. Think about it having power over the justice system, one of the main institution in every country. Yikes!

Final Thoughts

It might all begin with the Software being complementary to the work of judges. It could be consultative and help us see the details we’re missing.

There should be a long run, but the wheels are already in motion. UCL scientists managed to make such an AI with a 79% rate of success. It managed cases of torture, degrading treatment and privacy. It’s not the perfect percentage and it’s not universal. Yet, it’s a great start, that shows us that we are further than we thought we are.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you let RoboJudge replace the judge in your town?