Susskind named chair of expert group to advise judges on AI

Susskind: Long way from robot judges

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, has set up an advisory group to provide senior judges with guidance on artificial intelligence (AI).

Chaired by Professor Richard Susskind, the group includes Lord Neuberger, former president of the Supreme Court and Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court.

Professor Susskind told Legal Futures that AI has taken off in the last six or seven years, whether in machine learning or self-driving cars, to the point where it has become “affordable and practical”.

He went on: “We’re at the beginning of a new journey. Given the advances elsewhere, such as medicine or architecture, it is difficult to imagine that the law will not be affected.

“I don’t like the phrase ‘robot judges’. It suggests that systems will replicate how humans work. I don’t think this is the way they work. It is a very anthropocentric way of looking at things.”

Although Professor Susskind said that, in the absence of unexpected breakthroughs, the law was “a long way” from robot judges, AI raised important social and moral questions, while many practical tasks across the court system could be supported by the new technology.

“We’re taking a step back, and looking at the implications of those systems that are already upon us.

“The Lord Chief Justice wanted there to be a conversation among the judiciary about one of the most influential technologies that there is. It’s important that judges are alive to this. We wanted to put together a group that is not just judges or AI specialists, but both of them.”

Professor Susskind said the advisory group would in time produce reports on key subjects, but the first step was to identify what it was best placed to work on, given the presence of some “very senior and experienced” judges.

Lord Burnett said that despite the importance of AI, “insufficient attention” had been given to it by judges.

“It is vital that a modern judiciary gives systematic thought to the long-term,” he said.

“AI is clearly one of the most important technologies of our day. So far, however, here and around the world, insufficient attention has been paid by judges to its impact on the work of the courts.

“Our new group should remedy this gap. I am grateful to them for bringing their considerable combined knowledge to the task.”

Lady Justice Sharp, vice-president of the Queen’s Bench Division and Mr Justice Birss, supervising Chancery judge for the Midland, Wales and Western Circuits, are also in the group.

They are joined by part-time judge Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of AI and machine learning at the World Economic Forum, and Professor Katie Atkinson, head of computer science at Liverpool University and a past president of the International Association for AI and Law.

The purpose of the new group is to offer guidance on the likely impact of developments in AI on the judiciary and court system, on ways of ensuring that judges are sufficiently trained on AI and its impact, and “the most pressing legal, ethical, policy, cultural and economic effects of AI”.

Other members of the group are John Sorabji, principal legal adviser to the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls, and a senior fellow at the Judicial Institute at UCL, where he is an honorary professor.

The two practising lawyers are Matthew Lavy, barrister at 4 Pump Court, specialising in technology-related disputes and a trustee of the Society for Computers and Law, and Orlando Conetta, head of SmartDelivery at Pinsent Masons and a specialist in AI.

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