Annual Meeting 2010

Gap Between Sci-Fi and Reality May Be Narrowing in Justice System


Is the Tom Cruise hit Minority Report the future of justice? It’s closer to reality than you might think, according to a panel that spoke Friday at the ABA’s 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Advances in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and neuroscience were among the hot topics at the provocative, scientific look of what the court system will look like in 20 to 30 years.

“The future is hard to predict,” said Fred Dust, a partner and practice lead at global design and innovation firm IDEO. But “you can spot [it] if you think wisely.”

Although they offered up more questions than answers, the predictions and hypothetical futures presented by Dust and fellow panelists, including U.S. District Judge John Tunheim of Minnesota and noted psychiatrist and lawyer Mark Mills could easily form the plot of a sci-fi legal thriller:

• Human judges and juries will be rendered obsolete by artificial intelligence.

• Genetic testing and brain scans may shift the judicial focus to preventing crime rather than ad hoc punishment.

• Psychosurgery and mandatory drug treatments could replace prisons.

• A justice system could be outsourced to private corporations.

“Will we have an ultimate crowdsourcing justice system?” Dust asked. “It could be in the next five years.” Dust gave an example of a passerby in Mumbai who wanted to help overtaxed law enforcement officials crack down on violations. The passerby snapped a photo of a scooter rider not wearing a helmet and turned it over to authorities. In the future photos like that one could be submitted into evidence to help prosecute crimes.

Judge Tunheim identified practice areas that he envisions will disappear or become oddities. On his list: personal injury law, medical malpractice, and some patent cases as robots create stronger replacement body parts, new drugs completely alleviate pain, and computers with artificial intelligence are able to precisely determine disputed facts, outcomes and infringements.

“The only question will be how much insurance companies will pay,” Tunheim said.

The future of the court system, he added, will be in the social area, particularly at the intersection of science, politics and legal precedent.

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