Liberia: Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Judiciary- The Judge, the Law, and the Robot

.... Will AI Help Improve Liberia’s Judicial System?

Much has been said about our Judicial System, especially its challenges and the need for more reforms. Too often do we hear remarks like, “there’s no justice for poor people in Liberia” or the phrase, “delayed justice” and so on.

Of course, Liberia is not the only country in which these remarks are often made; it’s a global phenomenon. Despite those remarks, it is incontrovertible that Liberia’s judicial system has made significant strides in terms of “reforms” over the years, and we must applaud it for that.

That being said, a few concerns come to mind though and they are:  Have the reforms achieved over the years better our Judicial system? If not, should the word “reform” now take a paradigm shift to reflect changing times, which now involve adopting newer ways to remove things like impartiality, unfairness, wrong judgment, etc.? 

One of these “newer ways” mentioned above is the use of Artificial Intelligence (a field of computer science that strives to mimic human intelligence), to support our judicial system. Can or Will Artificial Intelligence or AI help improve our Judicial system? 

Of recent, I spent some time trying to garner an understanding of our Judicial system and AI’s potential role in improving it. My penchant for and subsequent attempt to gain insight into both domains involved several activities and experiences, including my participation in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on “Artificial Intelligence and the Rule of Law” offered through UNESCO, my current land dispute case at the Liberian Land Authority, my recent (April) observation of the controversial Human trafficking case at the 7th Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Gedeh, and obviously, my journey into the world of the extant literature on the topic. 

Before going further, let me provide some information about the UNESCO MOOC course whose link I assume, was sent to faculty (some, if not all) of the Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law, for participation. The course registered over 3500 judicial operators from all over the world. The six-module introductory course brought about a line-up of subject matter experts (judges, lawyers, human rights activists, AI experts, etc.), to discuss issues related to online courts, AI uses in the Justice System, AI Ethics and Governance Issues, Algorithmic Bias, Digitalization of the Justice System, and AI and Human Rights.

Insights were provided across the justice system (Public law, international law, civil rights, human rights law, social justice) and the emerging jurisprudence in the domain. It was indeed a very interesting course; one that made me start to consider the idea of going to law school. It is my hope that this discourse has already begun at our prestigious Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, because it is something that is trending, and it is the future. Succinctly put, it is inevitable!  

Apart from what I mentioned above, I am proud to say that I am one of the few individuals selected from Liberia to be part of the U.S. Department of State and the Atlantic Council GeoTech Center’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Connect program. I believe that being a part of this program makes it a duty to inform and educate, if possible, as many Liberians as possible about the impact of AI on our national development initiatives. Now, I am not saying these activities have turned me into an expert on AI as it relates to the Judicial system. No! What I am saying is that they have rather have galvanized my interest in this area. 

The literature has increased over the years, with articles and even practical applications of AI in all aspects of our lives. AI has been around for some time, but many of us have not noticed it. Some of the most prominent examples associated with AI are inventions like IBM’s Watson (known for winning the US quiz show Jeopardy) or DeepMind’s Alphago. Other examples of AI are Tesla’s unmanned vehicles, SIRI, ALEXA, Google Maps, Facebook Face Recognition technology, the fingerprint and face recognition features on your smartphone, GRAMMARLY, Turnitin software, and Google Assistant, just to name a few. 

Extant literature suggests that AI is already impacting the judiciary. Recently, I came across an interesting article written by Tania Sourdin with the heading: “Judge vs Robot? Artificial intelligence and judicial decision-making." In that article Sourdin argues that technology has already changed the practice of law and may, for example, reshape the process of judging by either replacing, supporting, or supplementing the judicial role. Such changes, she suggests, “may limit the extent to which humans are engaged in judging with an increasing emphasis on artificial intelligence to deal with smaller civil disputes and the more routine use of related technologies in more complex disputes.” 

Is Sourdin’s prediction, correct? Can AI limit the extent to which humans are involved in judging? I believe so. Why? It’s simple, advancements in AI, (which is driven by advancements in machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, natural language processing, expert systems, planning, robotics, and qualitative reasoning) have extended the range of human experience and behavior addressed by AI. And, some studies are focused increasingly on more complex and challenging areas of the legal process, typified by judicial decision-making. By now you might be thinking that only thinking as an IT professional and from an IT perspective. Ok, guilty as charged! But past experiences and humans’ ability to adopt and adapt to new technologies, can bear me out in this case.  Lawyers might argue differently, of course!

Other authors including Nyu Wang and Michael Yuan Tian support Sourdin’s prediction in their article which carries the following heading: “Intelligent Justice: AI Implementations in China’s Legal Systems”. According to the authors, China’s Artificial Intelligence National Strategy leverages AI technologies for judicial reform and modernization. They cited another paper that suggested that technologies such as Big data, Cloud Computing, Natural Language Processing, and Video Recognition are used to support ‘internet courts such as the ‘Court2Judge’ platform.

Citing another author, Wang and Tian also mentioned the role of Machine learning and cognitive computing to assist the Chinese public security and court personnel, with evidence verification and trial argumentation. What was of more interest to me as I read this article was the mention of Advanced AI robotics power ‘smart courts’ that employ the nation’s first robot judges such as ‘Xiaozhi’ that can efficiently adjudicate some civil cases. 

The Chinese public security agencies also use AI to locate lawbreakers and interrogate suspects to ensure the integrity and expediency of the processes from arrest to trial. I now understand why I could not notice the mass presence of Chinese Police during my visit to China, a few years ago. Although, I did notice a plethora of CCTV cameras and other technologies planted and mounted in strategic areas. 

To be continued