"The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."
— HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey
So EdX, a nonprofit joint venture between Harvard and MIT, has introduced automated software that can grade essays and short answers. The New York Times reports that the system "uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks." (We are tempted to wonder why grading and evaluating student answers to their questions is a task from which professors should be "freed," but that is another matter.) The opposition — with the nonacronymatic name of Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment — objects and cites evidence of, among other things, deliberately ridiculous essays scoring well.
We began to wonder: why not JudgeX, an automated software that can evaluate cases? If artificial intelligence can evaluate an essay, could it not evaluate briefs, affidavits, documents and visuals within defined legal principles and decide a case?
Lawyers could be trained to input information in certain syntax, using certain predesignated vocabulary. The software would contain a database of all accepted legal principles, and "grade" (assess) each "essay" (brief), determining the better or more legally correct one, based on the facts as input and of record. Precedent could be weighted by level of court. We could, as with chess and card game programs, have algorithms that reflect "aggressive" and "cautious" personalities; the parties could perhaps choose by stipulation — a kind of computerized "high-low." We could have a factual database of all relevant documents in the case that could be searched though the program for verification and assessment, along the lines of plagiarism detection programs. Juries? No problem. Have 12 computers with different personality presets. (And two IPads as alternates).
The EdX program’s advantage, it is claimed, is that it could give instant feedback — part of the "huge value" touted by EdX’s president Anant Agarwal, an electrical engineer. A dream for lawyers — no more delays. Beyond that, no more split circuits. No more dissents. The right result in every case. Foolproof and incapable of error.
As for compassion, or equity, or those other intangibles that we recognize as part of any evaluative process, we need only listen to HAL: "Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."
What judge could say better?