THE ROBOT SAYS YES, M’LUD…

I must say the Chinese are becoming innovative in such a way as to stun the western world when least expected. They have invented an object that has an appealing smile, a head shaped like a toaster and a child-like high pitched voice, but Wu Xiaolu is no toy. The three foot robot is helping to make decisions on whether criminal suspects in China will be thrown into prison or handed their freedom. Wu is one of a number of legal robots to have been deployed across a Chinese province to help decide sentencing on thousands of cases.

The robots scurry around prosecutors’ offices on their wheels in Jiangsu, Eastern China, reviewing documents and identifying problems that may arise during prosecutions; they also advice on sentencing and can generate arrest warrants and approve indictments, officials said at a press conference recently.

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Almost 15,000 legal cases have been reviewed by the robots since they were deployed last September. They have detected issues and corrected mistakes in more than half the cases, resulting in 541 convictions being commuted. Wang Fanglin, deputy procurator of Jiangsu Province People’s Procuratorate said they help cut the workload of his team. ‘We needed at least half a day or even a full day to review 3 files but the robots only need half an hour to identify anything suspicious’ he told Shanghai Web portal, thepaper-cn.

The robots, known as case management robots, have been deployed at 7 city governments and more than 30 lower-level authorities in Jiangsu. Many of the cases were traffic violations such as drunk – driving. They have a human-like torso but no arms. The face is a digital screen which displays warm eyes and a flashing, smiling mouth. They also display information on cases.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been seen by many as being key to the future of the law profession. Powerful legal BOTS, programmed with data from thousands of publicly available legal documents, have been developed by high tech companies to act as assistants to lawyers. The world’s first artificially intelligent attorney, named Ross, was hired by one of America’s biggest law firms, BakerHostetler, last year. Robots have also been recruited to carry out front-line law enforcement duties in many parts of the world, including China. Machines were deployed in the central Hubei province to help deter jaywalkers, while in the Southern city of Shenzhen ‘lane robots’ help direct traffic and relieve chronic congestion.

Richard Susskind, co-author of The Future of the Professions, said it was not too huge a leap for China to become a leader in AI low technology. ‘Whether or not sentencing systems need to be embodied in human-like robots is a moot point,’ said Professor Susskind. ‘It is not clear whether, in the future, this will be considered as adding to or detracting from a sense of justice delivered.’

It begs the question: Are robots going to replace humans with justification, says I, or is it a gimmick that’s short-lived in many cases, where the ingenuity of its creators will remain its superior? Time will only tell.

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