The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) has led to its deployment in courtrooms abroad. In China, robot judges decide minor damageswhile AI has been used in some Malaysian courts to recommend punishments for crimes such as drug possession.
Is it time for New Zealand to consider AI in its own legal system?
Intuitively, we don’t want to be judged by a computer. And there are good reasons for our reluctance – with legitimate concerns about the risk of bias and discrimination. But does this mean we should fear any use of AI in the courts?
But sentencing is a task that AI can perform instead – after all, AI machines are already being used to predict criminal behavior, such as financial fraud. Before the role of AI in the court space, then we need a clear understanding of what it actually is.
AI simply refers to a machine that behaves in a way that humans identify as “intelligent.” Most modern AI is machine learningwhere a computer algorithm learns the patterns within a set of data. For example, a machine learning algorithm can learn the patterns in a database of houses on Trade Me to predict house prices.
So, could AI sentencing be a viable option in New Zealand’s courts? What could it look like? Or could AI at least help judges in the sentencing process?
Inconsistency in the courts
In New Zealand, judges must weigh a number of mitigating and aggravating variables before deciding on a sentence for a convicted criminal. Each judge uses his discretion in determining the outcome of a case. At the same time, judges should strive for consistency throughout the legal system.
Consistency means that similar offenses should receive similar punishments in different courts with different judges. To increase consistency, the higher courts have issued guidelines that judges refer to when imposing judgments.
But discretion is counterproductive. In our current system, judges should be free to individualize the sentence after a full assessment of the case.
Judges must take into account individual circumstances, societal norms, the human condition and the sense of justice. They can use their experience and sense of humanity moral decisions and sometimes even change the law.
Basically, there’s a “desired inconsistency” that we can’t currently expect from a computer. But there can also be an “unwanted inconsistency” such as bias or even external factors such as hunger. Research has shown that in some Israeli courts, the percentage of favorable decisions drops to almost zero for lunch.
The potential role of AI
This is where AI can play a role in sentencing decisions. We put one machine learning algorithm and trained it using 302 New Zealand assault cases, with sentences ranging from zero to 14.5 years in prison.
Based on this data, the algorithm built a model that can take on a new case and predict the length of a sentence.
The beauty of the algorithm we used is that the model can explain why it made certain predictions. Our algorithm quantifies the sentences that the model weights the most when calculating the sentence.
To evaluate our model, we gave it 50 new punishment scenarios it had never seen before. We then compared the model’s predicted sentence length with the actual sentences.
The relatively simple model worked quite well. It predicted sentences with an average error of just under 12 months.
The model learned that words or phrases like “sexual,” “younger,” “taxi,” and “firearm” correlated with longer sentences, while words like “professional,” “career,” “fire,” and “Facebook” correlated with shorter sentences. .
Many of the expressions are easy to explain: “sexual” or “firearm” can be associated with aggravated assault. But why does “juvenile” weigh in for more time in jail and “Facebook” for less? And how does a 12-month average error compare to variations in human raters?
The answers to these questions are possible avenues for future research. But it’s a useful tool to help us better understand punishment.
The future of AI in courtrooms
Clearly, we cannot test our model by using it in court to pass judgments. But it gives us insight into our criminal process.
Judges could use this type of modeling to understand their sentencing decisions and perhaps remove external factors. AI models can also be used by lawyers, legal technology providers and researchers to conviction and legal system.
Maybe the AI fashion model- can also help create some transparency around controversial decisions, such as showing the public that seemingly controversial sentences like a rapist is placed under house arrest perhaps not particularly unusual.
Most would argue that the final judgments and decisions about justice and punishment should be made by human experts. But the lesson from our experiment is that we shouldn’t be afraid of the words “algorithm” or “AI” in the context of our legal system. Instead, we should discuss the real (and not imagined) implications of using those tools for the common good.
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