I recently had the unpleasant task of working with some young attorneys on a contract. Lawyers tend to carry on like they spend their days splitting atoms, but reality is much different. They spend most of their days cutting and pasting from one document to another. Contract law is simply not that difficult, but it has been made vastly complicated by a massive bird’s nest of verbiage. Too many lawyers with too much time and too much software.
Of course, contract law should not be difficult at all. In fact, it is something that could easily be automated. After all, a contract defines a relationship. Party X agrees to do something and Party Y agrees to do something. Then there are consequences for when either party fails to do what they promised. Life is simply not that variable where there needs to be new language for a each contract. There’s a reason we have the expression “boiler plate” to describe contract language.
A system where the two parties could answer a series of questions about their expectations of the other in the agreement would be easy to code. Writing some code that would force compromise over contradictions would be a bit more complicated, but no more complex than answering an on-line survey. Once the parties agree, the system would get a signature from both parties and register the contract.
My bet is most people would find this much better than dealing with human lawyers, who tend to get competitive over trivialities. The machine would present both parties with the most common agreement for their situation and that would satisfy the parties in most cases. This sort of normalization would also minimize disputes as people accepted the rules, rather than look for ways around them.
Disputes would go before the machine. Rather than two lawyers trying to trick a human judge into going for their version of events, the parties would answer questions on a touch screen. If you think lie detectors work, maybe add those into the mix. Either way, the robot judge would calculate the odds of each side being truthful and then render the verdict most likely to be in the interest of justice.
Having been in court too many times, human judges always try to force a deal. It’s part of their process. Imagine the parties answering the questions, given their odds of success and then offered a compromise. Since most contract cases are money cases, a haggling module would allow the parties to find a middle ground and that would be that. No deposition and interrogatories, just a couple hours in front of iMagistrate on-line.
The beauty of the robot judge is he does not need to be in a courtroom. He could be a kiosk at the mall or an internet presence. Since the judge is automated, there would be no need for lawyers. Contract law would, for most situations, become a self-service issue, like pumping gas or washing your car. It would probably save Americans billions just in contract stuff.
Of course, there’s no need to limit this approach to contracts. I’m just starting there because it is fresh in my mind and one of the minor nuisances of my life. If you think it sounds preposterous, consider that you sign a contract every time you rent a car. The law regarding car rentals has become so formalized and regulated, it’s just part of the background noise of vacation. Applying this to employment and services is no great leap.
Many criminal issues could also be automated as well. Drunk driving is just about to that point in America. The cop pulls you over and you are given a choice of taking a breath test or confessing. It’s not put that way, but that’s the reality in most states. If you refuse the breath test you lose your license until you see a judge, who always finds you guilty. Taking a breath test is just standing before the robot judge, when you think about it.
Imagine instead of arresting T’Quan and parking him in a booking cell, T’Quan is immediately brought before iMagistrate. The police enter their data and T’Quan answers a series of questions. Hard evidence like video and finger prints are uploaded and the verdict is rendered. Maybe iMagistrate can offer the accused a plea deal. Either way, the process could take hours rather than months.
That will never happen, of course, because it is too frightening to us. Maybe not never, but no one reading this will live to see RoboCop and RoboJudge, but the civil stuff is not unrealistic. There are on-line services for wills and setting up a business and even filing for divorce. Vast chunks of the law simply do not need a highly trained mouthpiece. They can be turned over to software. If software can write your will, it can sure as hell handle probate.
Got legal trouble? There’s an app for that!