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The opening sentence of an article titled "AI am the law" in the March 10, 2005, edition of The Economist asks, "Given the choice, who would you rather trust to safeguard your future: a bloodsucking lawyer or a cold, calculating computer?" The article goes on to predict that the day is soon coming when artificial intelligence (AI) systems will dispense legal advice to the masses. It suggests that we will be able to consult intelligent, software-based legal services over the Web rather than spend hundreds of dollars an hour to hire a real, living, breathing lawyer.

I believe that we should stop and think long and hard before following this path. Consider the massive unemployment that would result from replacing lawyers with computers. It would be an economic and human catastrophe beyond belief. The inhumanity of putting all of those people out of work is almost too ghastly to contemplate. We should give serious pause for at least a moment before being so heartless as to let these people go without giving them so much as a fare-thee-well. And think not only of them, but also of the innocent spouses and children who depend on them.

I'm not against progress, nor am I a Luddite. All I'm suggesting is that, before we march blindly into this brave new world of legal technology "progress," we should give some thought to the hundreds of hard-working, good-hearted comedians who earn their living by telling lawyer jokes. What would they do? Many of them have no other skills. To survive, some of them would, no doubt, turn to dealing drugs. Catching and trying all of those drug-dealing former comedians would, in turn, clog up our legal system. They would then have to rely on computerized lawyers for their defense. How's that for irony? As a caring society, we should show some compassion for these poor souls before we thoughtlessly replace lawyers with computers.

Oh yeah, hundreds of thousands of lawyers would also be put out of work, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, as they say.

Progress being relentless, it won't stop with computerized lawyers. It's inevitable that computers will eventually take over more and more tasks throughout the judicial system. Already, some judges are turning to computers to make sentencing more consistent.

Where will it all end? Will we also have AI-based legislatures to complement our virtual justice system? Come to think of it, artificially intelligent lawmakers would be a giant leap forward compared to some of our current politicians who don't even bother to make any pretense of real intelligence, but that's a whole other tirade.

All kidding aside, I personally think that merely automating some legal advice does not go nearly far enough. I say eliminate all humans from the justice system. That would be a tremendous boon to me when it comes to writing these tirades. My beat is technology, not the law. The more technology that there is in the legal system, the better it is for me. I'm confident that it would provide enough material to keep these tirades going for years.

I can hardly wait for the first screw-up. I can just see the day when a virtual judge, which sees all parties as mere numbers, awards custody of a child to the family pet, or maybe to the family PC, in a divorce case. Then again, judging from the media horror stories about what a few parents do to their children, in some cases that would be a far wiser decision than giving custody to either of the parents.

Obviously, a number of important questions must be addressed before we adopt a computerized judicial system. For example, would a computerized judge have to recuse itself because of a conflict of interest in a software liability case? Could mainframe systems serve on a jury in a personal injury trial, or would we need to use personal computers to form a jury of peers? Would a mistrial force a system reboot? Would a "fatal protection fault" error result in the death penalty? And, in a similar vein, would jurisdictions that still mete out capital punishment accept the blue screen of death as a reasonable substitute?

I do see at least one benefit to computerized judgments. There will no longer be any opportunity for human bias to affect trials. What's more, it will avoid the possibility of bribes. Computers don't have feelings. They feel neither the need nor the want for anything. Offering a few hundred dollars under the computer desk is not going to buy you a favorable judgment. On the downside (or the upside if you're a hacker), particularly good hackers will have access to a steady stream of get-out-of-jail-free cards.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He is currently looking for software that will defend him against any lawyers who might sue him for defamation of character as a result of this column.

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto.

MC Press books written by Joel Klebanoff available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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