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Smart Machines – Time for Digital Justice?

by Robert Hetu  |  September 25, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

A digital justice system utilizes smart machines to adjudicate based on extensive knowledge and a built in bias toward the presumption of innocence. In its most aggrandized form the digital justice system takes on the traditional roles of judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney. Already advanced analytics and big data are being used to reveal insights never before available about judges, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses. This data is harvested from millions of pages of litigation data. Analytics can predict the likely outcome of certain kinds of cases, and even inside the courtroom candidate jurors can have their entire professional and personal profiles compiled in near real time. This enables attorneys (and soon automated systems) to assess the suitability of jurists as and when they are presented. LexisNexis, long the go-to source of litigation data, has developed a system to determine whether a case is worth taking or not…in just minutes.

A Harvard University survey released earlier this year found that nearly one in two millennials believe America’s criminal justice system is unfair. Not surprisingly given the recent events across America a higher percentage of black and Hispanic millennials do not trust the system. There is also an age related component as unfortunately few millennials believe protests triggered by the killings of black men at the hands of police will make a significant difference. A Reuter’s poll conducted at the end of 2014 found that 31% agreed and only 42% of respondents disagreed when asked if “Police officers routinely lie to serve their own interests”. Among younger respondents the statistics grew much worse, as 45 percent among African-Americans and 41 percent of young people agreed with the statement. With so much distrust of the police, the face of criminal justice, it’s not a surprise that increasingly the perception is that a defendant is considered guilty and therefore must prove innocence.

One fairly self-evident truth is that human beings are flawed, and as a result the justice system carries that flaw with it.  This is true even though throughout history many have tried to create an environment that protects the rights of accused and the victims or other injured parties.  It is widely known that eye witnesses are notoriously flawed in what they report.  Yet jurors place a heavy emphasis on testimony of eye witnesses.  However as Scientific American describes the situation, this is based on a misconception of how the mind works.  In a research publication ( it reports that unlike a tape recording that replays on command, the mind must reassemble the memory each time that it gets repeated.    “The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording. Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.”  Basically our minds can incorporate new data as though it were actually observed.

The fundamental human flaw, distrust of the system among millennials, the growing socio-economic gap among other trends will drive towards alternative solutions. Further there is the distrust of politicians at all levels and a lack of legislative action which could perhaps improve upon the existing system.  The US Supreme court for example has basically upheld the use of plea bargains because of the expense associated with providing trials for all accused persons.  This leads to the question of how this ruling aligns with the constitution’s guarantees.  Only by leveraging technology can the justice system deliver on the promise of the presumption of innocence.

Explore the future of justice delivered by smart machines in my newest @Gartner_Inc Maverick research A US Digital Justice System: No Judge, No Jury, No Problems that explores these and other questions:

  • What are the possible configurations  of smart machines that will create a digital justice system?
  • Are there differences when digital justice is applied to common versus civil systems?
  • How will humans and smart machines interact within the system?
  • Are smart machines and AI used today in the justice system?
  • How will game play influence the digital justice future?
  • What choices will the accused have?
  • How likely is it that a digital justice system will happen?
  • Could tyranny be the result of digital justice?
  • What happens if a smart machine commits a crime?

Join the conversation on the digital future of justice.

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Category: maverick  symposium  

Tags: advanced-analytics  ai  artificial-intelligence  digital  future  justice  justine-system  liberty  smart-machines  tyranny  

Robert Hetu
VP, Analyst Retail
7 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Bob Hetu is a Research Director with the Gartner Retail Industry Services team. His responsibilities involve tracking the technology markets and trends impacting the broad-based retail merchandising and planning areas. Mr. Hetu is an expert in the areas of brand, vendor and assortment management, merchandise planning, allocation, and replenishment. Read Full Bio

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