The rise of AI in the courtroom

Fears about artificial intelligence putting people out of work have been around for decades, with vocations like manufacturing, bookkeeping and driving thought to be most at risk. But now, thanks to recent advances in the world of AI, lawyers might also be under threat.

DoNotPay, an app launched in 2015 that claims to be the world’s first robot lawyer, is trialling the use of AI in place of a barrister to defend someone in court next month. For the first time, a smartphone-run AI device will listen to all discussions in the courtroom before telling the defendant – who has been charged with speeding – how to respond via an earbud.

According to New Scientist’s tech reporter Matthew Sparkes, DoNotPay has agreed to pay any fines “should they be imposed” on behalf of the defendant, whose identity has not been revealed. The location of the court is also under wraps, but it was chosen because it classes the smartphone-earbud set-up as “a hearing aid”, therefore enabling the experiment to take place. 

‘Aim to replace some lawyers’

The AI used by DoNotPay has been “trained to stick to factual statements, rather than saying whatever it could to win a case regardless of truth”, said Sparkes. The aim of the firm’s founder, Joshua Browder, is for the software to “eventually replace some lawyers”. 

“It’s all about language, and that’s what lawyers charge hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour to do,” Browder is quoted as saying in the magazine. “There’ll still be a lot of good lawyers out there who may be arguing in the European Court of Human Rights, but a lot of lawyers are just charging way too much money to copy and paste documents and I think they will definitely be replaced, and they should be replaced.” 

DoNotPay has raised $27.7m “from tech-focused venture capital firms”, reported CBS News, and over the years the app has used AI to help more than two million people resolve customer service disputes, challenge parking tickets and settle court cases, “among other issues”.

Browder’s “courtroom gambit” is the latest in a series of curveballs that advanced AI tools are “throwing at the legal professions”, said Politico’s Ben Schreckinger. Another example, from just last week, was the publication of a “non-peer-reviewed preprint paper” predicting that an AI would soon be able to pass the multiple-choice section of the US Multistate Bar Exam. 

‘Better off hiring flesh-and-blood lawyers’

But despite these advances, defendants “would still be better off hiring flesh-and-blood lawyers”, US litigator Nicholas Saady told Schreckinger. Good litigation is about reading body language and making “split-second strategic decisions in the middle of courtroom exchanges” – and “it doesn’t seem like AI is ready to get on its feet in court”, he explained.

In an interview with CBS News, Browder highlighted the limitations of the technology. He pointed out that the AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT, which has made headlines in recent weeks for its stunningly convincing communication skills, is “very good at holding conversations, but it’s terrible at knowing the law.

“We’ve had to retrain these AIs to know the law,” he said. “AI is a high school student, and we’re sending it to law school.”

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