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Towards Cyberjustice Retrospective, Part 5: What the Future Holds

As promised in our previous post, we are back to discuss the fourth and final chapter of our upcoming report detailing the pursuits of the “Towards Cyberjustice” Project (the other parts can be found here: part 1part 2part 3). Whereas our previous posts highlighted the various papers, studies and pilot projects conducted by the Cyberjustice Laboratory and its partners throughout this seven-year long venture, our final post is dedicated to the future avenues of research that were inspired by our accomplishments over these last years, which are also supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

Entitled “Artificial Intelligence & Beyond: Where do we go from Here?”, our report’s final chapter offers a brief outline of the latest research journey that the Cyberjustice Laboratory has recently embarked upon. The Towards Cyberjustice project made important contributions to increasing access to justice. It not only strengthened existing bodies of research on the subject, but it also effected change in several courts and justice departments throughout Canada and worldwide. That being said, the project has marked only the beginning of what has proven to be a field of research rife with possibility. With increasing advancements in modern technology, primarily those involving artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, we are now exploring possibilities of leveraging AI and big data to entirely reform how access to justice is both perceived and granted.

The chapter begins by describing the project that came to both replace and continue “Towards Cyberjustice”, the six-year Autonomy through Cyberjustice Technologies and artificial intelligence (ACT) project. It establishes a partnership assembling a multidisciplinary and international team of 45+ researchers and 45+ partners representing several stakeholders, including the world’s leading cyberjustice research centres, litigants, legal professionals, as well as users and suppliers of AI within the Canadian judicial system. The grand scale of this project, as well as its noteworthy undertakings, are enabled by both the Cyberjustice Laboratory’s software infrastructure and its partners’ expertise in AI and data harvesting, as well as by the considerable experience that we have garnered throughout the duration of the Towards Cyberjustice project.

Our report’s final chapter then goes on to tell the tale of how this new project was conceived. In effect, inspiration for the ACT project struck when our researchers and partners noted how existing technologies that harness the power of AI, such as conversational agents, predictive algorithms for anticipating the outcomes of trials, smart contracts, and AI-assisted online dispute resolution, have been successful in preventing and resolving conflicts. These tools ultimately empower litigants by enhancing their autonomy and increasing their ability to both understand and pursue the law. Differently from previous cyberjustice research, which focused on improving the circulation and sharing of legal information among justice stakeholders, AI technology plays a more direct role in increasing access to justice by enhancing legal research capabilities, legal analysis and the decision-making of everyday people, mediators, lawyers and judges. While the benefits of implementing AI technology within the justice sector are numerous, the final chapter of our report foresees that one of its most promising areas for development will be in Online Dispute Resolution for low-intensity and high-volume disputes, such as consumer or landlord-tenant conflicts.

Yet despite all of the advantages that justice might stand to gain from AI technology, its implementation may not be without some barriers. Essentially, by transforming both conflict prevention and resolution, these tools will inevitably disrupt the legal profession and create somewhat of a discord between the expectations of citizens who wish to benefit from these technological advances and what is effectively permitted by our current legal framework. Having observed that these emerging implementations of AI and their effects on the justice sector were understudied, our researchers set out to address precisely this phenomenon in our newest project. They seek to identify how justice will be affected by the use of AI and to explore how said technology might be developed to better respond to the legal sector’s needs, and ultimately provide the necessary tools to allow this field to properly adapt to technological evolution.

To this effect, and as briefly mentioned at the conclusion of our report’s final chapter, our newest research agenda is separated into four stages and 16 subprojects. Our first goal is to make an inventory of existing AI technology used in justice systems worldwide. Next, we will pursue a number of case studies enabling us to evaluate how these technologies empower justice stakeholders and increase their autonomy. Third, we will develop a series of best practices to ensure that the interests of all parties are adequately protected. Finally, we will elaborate a governance framework geared towards guaranteeing the fair use of AI within the justice sector. This research project holds a great deal of promise, not just in terms of the concrete benefits that it will offer, but also in terms of the role that it will play in ensuring that continuing developments of AI technologies within the justice sector respect our rights and freedoms.

The Towards Cyberjustice project was therefore a significant first step in what we anticipate will be a long and fruitful journey that serves to further increase access to justice through harnessing the power of modern technologies. We hope that you enjoyed our reflections on our last venture and that you will look out for our full report, scheduled to be released in early 2020. In the meantime, we’ll be sure to keep you posted on how you can expect AI to transform our legal system in the future.

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