The Judgment Livestream

Good morning, Receivers! We’re here, live and in the flesh, at the supreme court of the province of Rona, this fateful day, and we bring live to your handhelds the court proceedings of the case State versus the city of Fridsea. Today might be a watershed moment on the future of technology as we know it! The question blazing through every citizen’s mind in this courtroom is - can we allow a machine to judge humans?!

The courtroom citizens referred to were either yawning or engrossed in their handhelds. For a watershed moment in history, there weren’t that many onlookers present. Most present were dressed smartly, with some sort of card attached to their clothing declaring PRESS in various fonts. One muscular man had a neon hologram above his head pronouncing him a reporter. The people around him were giving him nasty looks.

Even though it might be a big deal, it didn’t make sense not to simply livestream it from the comfort of your home.

For those of you not following this story, let us recap what has happened so far. The city of Fridsea convicted Alina Emmett, amidst conflicting alibis and witnesses, and gave her twenty seven and a half years in correctional facilities. It has made waves because this ruling was given by Dynamico Inc’s AI BLNDFLD. Alina has taken this issue to the State’s supreme court and all manner of sociopolitcal leaders and celebrities have weighed in. As rapper-racer Baha Bez was quoted saying, “Stuff too labyrinthian for my little noodle to handle.”

The judge called the courtroom to order.

Attorney Fabius put down their handheld and moved to the front, in their sharp suit and immaculate hair. The crowd started murmuring, some shaking their neighbours to alert them. The judge slammed the gavel and called for order.

“Citizens! We have wasted enough time with this case already,” they, Fabius, began. “It is obvious that the use of an AI judge is faster, and fairer to everyone involved.”

“Objection!” Attorney Hussein stood up. He had gray strands in his hair, and his suit, although respectable, looked … lived in. “The model cannot be declared fair - it is a black box model, whose inner workings we are unaware of, and moreover, it is programmed by a for-profit agent, Dynamico.”

“Agreed,” the judged said. “what do you have to say about this, mis…uh… Fabius?”

“Your honor, a black or white box model means nothing. Nothing. A human judge cannot be expected to be a criminology expert, a psychology major and a statistician simultaneously. If the general populace does not have a clue how a complex white box model works, is it not, de facto, a black box?”

“Moreover, as the prior evidence and witnesses have shown us, the current AI is much better at reducing crime in society.” They added.

“Yes, Mr. Hussein,” the judged nodded, “you have a rebuttal?”

“Your honor,” the man with the salt-and-pepper hair spoke, “reducing crime on the whole may have been demonstrated by the studies, but I ask you, what about the individual? Is it not the right of every person to receive justice via due process? Such algorithms have been notoriously bad at individual cases in the past, producing outliers without reason or evidence.”

The crowd started chattering again, some asking around what the word outlier meant.

Fabius raised their hand. The people hushed and they said, “Due process is, an archaic concept. It was drafted in the Magna Carta, for crying out loud. Society has moved on from there. What Mister Hussein,” they paused to smile at their opponent, “is accusing of, is algorithmic bias. We have minimized it to incredibly low numbers. Counterpoint, humans are also biased, horribly sometimes - at least we can place the responsibility on an agent now and monitor them.”

“Contradiction, your honor,” Hussein took a few steps towards Fabius and pointed a shaky finger. “He..they said we cannot even understand white box models, right? So how could we hold a company, who would like to hide their trade secrets, accountable? At all? You’re just moving to give power to a leviathan! This will lead to Fascism!”

The crowd got excited. The recent revival of the F-word in media and politics had been viral. Now the proper fight was getting started.

Fabius shook their head, in feigned sadness.

“Oh, Mister Hussein. This is sad. You have resorted to accusations of Fascism so early? Do you not have better arguments?”

Some people let out short laughs. The judge banged her gavel again, and cried out, “Order in my court!”

A short break of fifteen minutes was called for.

An ad broke the livestream.

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Receivers! We interrupt the break to bring you live to the court lobby, where the two attorneys were seen having a heated discussion earlier. And receivers, we have an interesting revelation that may change how you see this trial. The judge, our intern Mace has found out, had a twin brother killed by a self-driving car. So while we cannot promise where the hammer of justice will land, we’re pretty sure it leans against the machines.

“People, be seated,” the judge called out. “As is tradition, we will now be taking comments from the public. Yes, you.”

The judge pointed at the man with the neon sign overhead.

“Greetings, smartpeople!” he gestured with his hands. “I’m from the haaipp derr-agon network!”

Murmurs of irritation spread through the crowd. Mr. Hussein scowled at the guy.

“I say this, put the machine on the chair,” the neon man continued, “let them have a go at it.”

“Do you have any arguments or reasons for this view,” the judge said, titling her head, “sir?”

The man glanced around the room.

“I was not this person, always. Many years ago, I tried out a luddite life. I went to the mountains, some of you might have heard about them, right on top of one. There I lived for twelve long years at a monastery.”

Confused murmurs were heard.

“I found peace, and stillness, and everything. But you know what? It sucked! It wasn’t worth not having nachos, or shooting people virtually. We, humans, are wired, evolved to seek comfort and ease. More than anything.” His voice got louder. “Law? That’s just a lie we invented to lock up people. We have discarded it whenever it was inconvenient. We are opportunistic and ruthless by nature. We had to be, Darwin and all that. Humans haven’t been legal, or ethical. Let the robots have a go at it. Maybe they’ll believe the lies and do a better job!”

The man sat down. The crowd buzzed with noise.

The judge sighed.

“Thank you for that. Next person, please.”

A tall figure with old-style glasses stood up and looked again at their paper notebook.

“Your honor, and gathered citizens,” he began. “I am a historian. The pre-internet kind, actually. My studies have centered on ancient and post-ancient civilizations.”

The crowd’s noise slowly died down. Some were already beginning to look bored.

“I am trying to present unbiased facts here, as much as possible. Throughout history, the decline of civilizations has been due to the delusion of control. Almost every great civilization has ended by spreading too thin, being too haughty and having no backup, no defense against unforeseen events. All these technologies, these algorithms, are still alien to us. We simply cannot cross this threshold in allowing them control of our societal structures. It has not even been two centuries since we have tinkered with AI. Please do not cause the chain reaction for our downfall. This is a point of no return.”

The crowd started getting restless. This guy sounded too much like the doomsday prophets you found on street corners, only he had glasses on and a briefcase.

“Okay. Final comment for now, you.”

A woman clad in black with a thick silver collar around her neck stood up.

“Hello. I research cybernetics. Our society is complex. No human, or group of humans can comprehend it presently. The average person has no clue how these expert systems and forecasts work. All this while, every other week underground labs of human genome trials are busted. International rivals have high-res satellites that track every single person outdoors. Companies, even government agencies, hire based on social credit systems,” she took a long breath and continued, “We already have invisible AI judges running our society. Let’s waste no more time on this. Become transparent and move forward with putting the algorithm on the chair for everyone to see. If we don’t embrace this, some other technology will wipe us out.”

She tilted her head towards the historian. He narrowed his brows.

Attorney Fabius stood and walked to the middle. The crowd tensed up, sensing the trial was approaching an end.

“Your honor, let us look at the bigger picture, why we are strongly in favor of instating an AI judge. It is a matter of integration, not just conviction. For any criminal, the story does not end in the courtroom. There also remains the imprisonment and then subsequent reintroduction into society. An algorithmic arbiter has the capacity to communicate with other systems of society,” here Fabius nodded at the cybernetics researcher in black, “schooling, housing, media - to reduce the need for crime, the possibility of crime. A human judge, I’m sorry to say, your honor, is fundamentally incapable of such large-scale integration. Incapable of considering all the factors that go into a convict’s actions, how likely they are to repeat their offenses.”

Fabius gave a bow towards Mr Hussein, who had risen up.

“You seem to be leapfrogging philosophies here. Your argument, it assumes that people are inherently good. Are they? If people just have bread and wine and something to do, would we be crime-free? No, your honor. Some of the vilest offenders in society are sane, wealthy folks. Fixing the environment is no end-all! Furthermore,” the feverish man took a deep breath, “why would we want to? If you remove the very possibility of being bad, how can people ever redeem their darker selves and prove to be good?”

Fabius gave a short laugh.

“Redemption? Hah. Mister Hussein, this is a court, not a chapel. As citizens, we hold the collective good to be superior to a single person’s fate.”

“Why? You talked about archaic concepts. Why is the collective good of the citizenry,” Mr Hussein imitated quotation marks with his hands, which confused much of the crowd, “also not an archaic concept? Yes, the world is getting complex. But that speaks againt consequantialism even more. There are debates about robot personhood going on. Do they count as citizenry? In the collective good how do we factor in our children, who might have verey different views than us, or their children, and the many generations to come after? We simply cannot begin to calculate all this, not with the best algorithms. So, your honor, we must focus on the individual.”

The attorneys rested their cases. Ten or so minutes later, the judge gave a ruling.

She ruled in favor of the city of Fridsea. The AI judge was here to stay.

As the journalists swarmed upon different commenters, Fabius made his way to where Mr Hussein was sitting with his hand in his salt-and-pepper hair. He offered a hand.

“Well fought,” he said with a smile, “father.”

At the same court seven years later, Fabius Hussein was convicted by an AI judge to life in prison for crimes committed by the company he had secretly been running, Dynamico, against humanity.

Written on 04 June 2020