Algorithmic Justice: Dispute Resolution and the Robot Judge?

John Morison, Adam Harkens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The exponential growth of power in computing technology, combined with the development of big data, the internet of things and machine learning is transforming our world (Kelly and Hamm 2014; Greenfield 2017). A burgeoning robotics industry is already making many humans redundant from a wide range of occupations, extending beyond those that are routine and repetitive and into a range of white collar jobs (Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2014). While occupations that involve judgment and human interaction are likely to be among the last to be taken over by machines, a significant study of the impact of technology on 702 occupations found lawyers and judges to be more or less at the mid point of jobs likely to be replaced by technology (Frey and Osbourne 2013). Software that can scan documents for key words and phrases has already transformed the role of paralegals and legal assistants. It is certainly possible that the role of lawyers might be augmented by machines but could they, or even judges, be replaced by robots? In this contribution we consider the possibility of this and examine some of the issues that are raised.

A focus on dispute resolution – rather than more formal hearings or trials – perhaps affords the strongest opportunity for the case to be made for technology. However we should declare an initial and strong skepticism that the essentially social nature of law can be reproduced by machines, no matter how sophisticated. Nevertheless we will note the evolution of “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) into “Online Dispute Resolution”(ODR), and review briefly how the component tasks of mediation might be thought to lend themselves to technological enhancement. We will be particularly alive to the issue of whether any of this technology has the potential to amount to a new system of dispute resolution as opposed to simply being a tool to augment existing processes. We will speculate as to whether the sort of patterns that might be gathered from big data and sorted by machine learning algorithms could provide the basis of a new approach, and what this might mean.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook: Comparative Dispute Resolution
EditorsMaria Moscati, Michael Palmer, Marian Roberts
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages16
Publication statusAccepted - 2018

Publication series

NameResearch Handbooks in Comparative Law

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