As is customary, the courtroom’s occupants rise when the judge enters. But, that ritual is a vestige of a different age: this particular jurist does not require such ceremony. Being an amalgamation of metal and silicon, JusticeBot4000 needs no genuflection and is concerned solely with the ruthlessly efficient resolution of disputes. Having just processed the parties’ respective, figurative mountains of paperwork in mere seconds, she (the robot was given a remarkably lifelike female appearance) uses her sensors to scan the vitals of the litigants, looking for any last-minute data that may skew her ruling. Two minutes after first being assigned the case, JusticeBot4000 renders her verdict: the defendant owes the plaintiff $68,242.82. Both judge and collection agent, she wheels herself over to the defendant’s table and scans the payment dongle embedded in the skin of his forearm. Case closed, plaintiff paid, an outcome that would have taken three years if sought in 2017 took a scant three minutes.
This perhaps inevitable progression terrifies and titillates me in equal measure. Besides the fact that I have heretofore been something of a Luddite, the former emotion is a fear borne out of sentimentality and solidarity with my species. My immediate reaction to the scenario is that only a person has the requisite combination of intellectual and emotional intelligence to be able to decide the fate of another human. This perspective is foolish because we are no match for the analytical capabilities of a smartphone, let alone a specifically-programmed robot judge. And, as I am fond of repeating, emotions are the kink in the works of an efficient mode of conflict resolution. Just because I do not choose to date a cyborg does not mean that I would be opposed to having one sit on the bench.
I like the idea of an automated justice system for the same reason that I welcome the arrival of autonomous automobiles. An occasional GPS malfunction and accompanying fender bender is a fair trade for a network of distracted, potentially drunk idiots plying our highways piloting half-ton hunks of steel. Similarly, no matter the issues that may arise on a micro-level with JusticeBot4000 and her ilk, they pale in comparison to the ones that we humans have created. We had our shot and blew it by fomenting a system with ludicrous costs, massive delays, inconsistent outcomes, and high levels of dissatisfaction.
I am not merely picking on judges: lawyers could be replaced fairly easily as well. As full as my head is with legal principles and strategy, I could never compete with a purpose-built Matloq or PRYMSN on that front. Though I suppose I am not totally useless: I have compassion, I am fueled mostly by rotisserie chicken instead of expensive batteries, and I flatter myself by thinking I would look better in a bowtie.
Of course, a shift in this direction would require a fundamental restructuring of our sociopolitical system and of the Constitution which governs it. JusticeBot4000 will have a fresh Constitution on our collective desks within the hour, just before she turns to the task of building electronic replacements for the denizens of our statehouses and Congress. You heard it here first: JusticeBot4000 for President in 2024.