I had a curious moment today in juxtaposing three websites today.
One was an interview of Richard Susskind OBE, who has just assumed the Presidency of the Society for Computers & Law. In assuming this position, he stated that: " a useful role for SCL is to act as a focal point for a debate about the ways in which advanced technology affects legal practice – not just in traditional legal firms but in the administration of justice in its most general sense."
I couldn't agree with him more…we need a place to have debate on how advanced technology is affecting legal practice as well as the ways it can assist – particularly so in helping with the costly, slow and burdened administration of justice process that must be borne by governments all over the world.
Accordingly, it was refreshing to see that Richard next focused his thoughts on ODR:
One example that occurs to me relates to online dispute resolution (ODR). In the UK, we might once have expected the Ministry of Justice to take a lead, perhaps to undertake a major study of the effectiveness and limitations of online dispute technologies. But that is not something that we can expect in the current climate. Perhaps SCL could be involved in such a study, bringing a range of players together for that purpose. The area of online consumer dispute resolution fascinates me and the eBay example, where 60 million disputes are resolved online each year, shows that there is a real appetite for such services. There is now a substantial and growing literature on ODR and, as well as the eBay example, we have the MOJ's Money Claim Online and Possession Claims Online – the latter two really are world-beating instances of ODR. The question for me is how to accelerate the uptake of ODR. If we want an affordable and pervasive technique for the resolution of disputes that is suitable for individuals or small businesses then, I argue, we must look online. The public sector is not going to fund the necessary work that will explore the potential of ODR. But SCL could provide thought leadership here – perhaps a commission of inquiry into this followed by a definitive report, looking at what has been done around the world, what the costs and benefits are and what the strategic options are for developing this further. The danger is that what could be a very powerful technology in promoting access to justice could otherwise develop in a piecemeal, unstructured and non-strategic way. SCL may be able to help avert this.
The second web site was by First Mediation Corporation, in an article entitled: "Expert Analysis of Cybersettle." Cybersettle bills itself as "the "Worlds #1 Online Settlement Company". Cybersettle is a 'zero sum game' settlement method.
The learned author stated:
The challenge: convincing plaintiffs’ attorneys that this service actually serves their clients, the true victims in this game of chance. From an ethical standpoint, the dilemma faced by lawyers is whether their clients are receiving adequate representation from a judicial formula cranked out by a microchip. Its hard to imagine that a computer program would replace the human element, a key ingredient in any negotiation. [emphasis added]
I was actually stunned when I read this. The author doubts that a computer program couldn't eventually replace a human or that an algorithm could not perform at least as well as a human?
More recently "IBM's Watson" won at Jeopardy:
Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, developed in IBM's DeepQA project by a research team led by principal investigator David Ferrucci. Watson was named after IBM's first president, Thomas J. Watson.
In 2011, as a test of its abilities, Watson competed on the quiz show Jeopardy!, in the show's only human-versus-machine match-up to date. In a two-game, combined-point match, broadcast in three Jeopardy! episodes February 14–16, Watson beat Brad Rutter, the biggest all-time money winner on Jeopardy!, and Ken Jennings, the record holder for the longest championship streak (75 days). Watson received the first prize of $1 million, while Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter received $300,000 and $200,000, respectively. Jennings and Rutter pledged to donate half their winnings to charity, while IBM divided Watson's winnings between two charities.
Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Computer processing ability, at least for the foreseeable future, is only going to increase.
The third web site was the Wikipedia's entry on Game Theory. My past life, before being a lawyer, was to study mathematics and computer science. So I admit a certain leaning in this direction. Why game theory? ODR – online dispute resolution – is based on game theory:
In mathematics, game theory models strategic situations, or games, in which an individual's success in making choices depends on the choices of others (Myerson, 1991). It is used in the social sciences (most notably in economics, management, operations research, political science, and social psychology) as well as in other formal sciences (logic, computer science, and statistics) and biology (particularly evolutionary biology and ecology). While initially developed to analyze competitions in which one individual does better at another's expense (zero sum games), it has been expanded to treat a wide class of interactions, which are classified according to several broad types of games. Prominent examples include cooperative and non-cooperative games and games with perfect and imperfect information.
Game theory is a very well respected field of study today – this is from the Wikipedia entry:
Game theory has been widely recognized as an important tool in many fields. Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.
Game theory, as applied via ODR, holds tremendous promise in the field of helping to settle human disputes, particularly as our ability to apply algorithms to model human disputes increases. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before computers start passing the "Turing Test" in more examples than just chess-playing and Jeopardy!
Getting back to Richard, I agree with his assertion that what we need now is thought leadership on how to best apply ODR – to look at the strategic options – in order to see if we can find a way to solve at least some of the world's problems – Richard is telling us to take a chance…