Robots are getting better at understanding laws and researchers think its only a matter of time before they get clever enough to take over real life judges.
Computers are already predicting the verdicts that human judges and lawyers will reach in most cases.
Computers have successfully predicted 88% of prosecutor decisions, 82% of verdicts in asylum cases and 70% of US Supreme Court rulings.
Even with “minimal case information”, computers got 67% of bankruptcy rulings right.
“It is straightforward, in principle, to automate legal decision-making, and there may be some advantages to doing so,” Prof Elliott Ash of Warwick University said.
Until robot judges are introduced, Ash said using AI in the courtroom could really help human judges, who could use “robot clerks” to help them reach decisions.
“This is an app that takes in evidence data, runs the numbers, and then produces a prediction about what previous judges would have likely decided.
“Human judges would then use this prediction as an input into their own decision, which could be based on a wider range of factors,” Ash said.
“In uncertain cases the decision would still be made wholly by the human judge.”
A 1949 illustration shows a man with an electronic circuit board for a brain
But experts warn if we’re not careful, robot judges can get things really wrong.
Researchers think they could make human judges’ biases against, for example, black defendants worse.
AIs work by copying previous human decisions, which means the machine’s conclusions will repeat any bias made by real life judge before them.
“This matters for the robot judge because any automated decision system that is trained on biased data will also be biased”, Ash said.
Experts are also worried if the robot judges’ algorithms used to make predictions and decisions weren’t public, its decisions couldn’t be criticised.
But, they say, if they were open, lawyers might “game the system” and fool the machine into deciding in their favour.
Ash has mixed feeling about the future of AI in courts: “The brave new world of legal automation is upon us.
“These developments are both thrilling and unsettling because they attack the core of our humanity: is not justice what distinguishes man from machine?”