One day, when thinking about robots with a friend and colleague, Carissima Mathen, we happened upon a thought experiment we eventually decided to submit to the world’s premier conference on robotics and AI law and policy, We Robot.
In the piece, Carissima and I ask our readers to engage with a counterfactual designed to provoke questions about the nature of judicial purpose and legal reasoning. What if, sitting on the Court at the apex of the western legal tradition, there was a machine instead of a person? What if the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court was a robot?
In our thought experiment we imagined the following: after a brazen terrorist attack in which Chief Justice John Roberts is seriously injured, he is delivered to the hospital for life-saving treatment and cut open on the operating table, only to be revealed that he is actually a highly-sophisticated robot. Unbeknownst to the other justices, the entire legal profession, and the wider world, John Roberts, Robot (JR-R) was the product of an audacious experiment to see whether a social robot could successfully integrate into society, without human help or oversight. In order for the exercise to play out as planned, information about JR-R’s mechanical nature was kept highly secret, and even the robot itself was programmed to believe in its humanity.
Through this extravagant hypothetical, we invite you to evaluate the legitimacy of JR-R’s tenure on the bench. Does it matter that several landmark legal decisions of the twenty first century were written by an artificial intelligence? And what are the implications for a future that is certain to include at least some measure of mechanical jurisprudence? Today, legal scholars are grappling with the reality that integrating technology with the law will impact the way we administer justice. Embracing technology may lead to efficiencies, and perhaps even positive outcomes for access to justice and evidence-based decision making, but it may also fundamentally change our concept of what it means to follow a rule or be judged by our peers, and a number of other challenges to administration of law as a human endeavor.
Drawing chiefly on theories from HLA Hart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Cass Sunstein, we explore three areas in which legal realities confront the legitimacy of JR-R: constitutional barriers, judicial fitness, and the law as integrity.