Turn to tech, AI to reform the judiciary

The judiciary is often likened to the Church and the military. All three are bastions of conservatism; they cannot be fully democratized, and they are bound by a historical respect for traditions, precedents, meritocracy, and seniority.

PLEASANTLY SURPRISING THEREFORE YET DESERVING OF ACCLAIM was the recent speech of Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo accepting the challenge on how the judiciary can “turn tech for good and move from problem to solution…” and how “[t]echnology has impacted the Philippine judiciary in more ways than one. It has not only transformed court processes and operations; to a certain degree, it has also altered judicial thinking. Expanded access to information has resulted in a comprehensive understanding and deeper analysis of cases. AI (artificial intelligence) has the potential to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of judicial decisions, while at the same time, raise some algorithmic bias.”

Indeed, “algorithmic,” “tech,” and “AI” (and its more useful version, “Gen AI” plus the current sensation, “ChatGPT”—Generative, Pretrained Transformer—and its derivatives “Bard,” “Bing,” and “Baidu”) are new terminologies not too well understood by many magistrates. However, whether incumbent or retired, they need to know the new lingo of this age (like “neuralink,” “bitcoin,” “crypto,” “metaverse,” “pod,” “5G,” etc.), and be familiar with, the “Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovation 2022-2027” or SPJI unveiled by the Supreme Court a year ago. On the SPJI, I will no longer repeat what I have written on Nov. 14 and 21, 2022.

SUFFICE IT TO SAY FOR NOW THAT EVEN IF JUST ONE SPJI OBJECTIVE IS ATTAINED, i.e., speeding up the delivery of quality justice by faithfully observing the time limits prescribed by the Constitution for the issuance of final decisions and hastening the process of reaching those decisions (like ramping up trials and interlocutory orders), the Court, IMHO, would have achieved a monumental success. And thereafter, it can extend the SPIJ for another five years, 2028-2033, with an even greater reliance on hi-tech and AI.

Truly, AI is the future. It will cause unimaginable changes for everyone in the world. It will be as transformative as the tectonic shifts from animal hunting and fruit picking to agriculture, and to the industrial revolution, which took several centuries. In contrast, civilization took only decades to veer to the jets, shinkansen, and expressways, and even much faster to the personal computer in the 1980s, the internet in the 1990s, the smartphone in the 2000s, cloud computing in the 2010s and the AI in the 2020s. With AI and its spinoffs, the transformation will blitz with lightning speed.

AI will transform jobs, professions, workplaces, habits, lifestyles, medicine, family relations, longevity, laws, and governance, thereby inducing anxiety and fear of becoming obsolete and useless. While physical ailments, plagues, and epidemics may be healed, if not eliminated, by better medicine and health care, mental disorders will become more prevalent and harder to cure.

Nonetheless, for every job or profession outmoded, new work and expertise would be created. Just as horses and carabao were taken over by tractors and backhoes, repetitive work and even legal and medical research will be replaced by apps and robots. In turn, new jobs, professions, and opportunities that will allow more leisure will emerge. But values and principles, like empathy, trust, love, justice, and faith in the Almighty will remain.

THOUGH CONSTITUTIONS, STATUTES, AND REGULATIONS can easily be inputted and speedily applied by AI to a given set of facts, humane justice can be dispensed only by judges, not always by an automated formula. For example, our Penal Code gives judges a range of penalties to select from, and the Civil Code grants them the liberality to make “right and justice” prevail. Verily, judges are conferred wide discretion, not available to tech bots, to attain a just and humane society where liberty is safeguarded, and prosperity is nurtured under the rule of law.

On a personal note, I am grateful that after I retired as chief justice in December 2006, I have been given opportunities to keep up with the transformation of society and the eruption of human knowledge as local chairperson of several international groups (like the Asean Law Association and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague), and as an officer, director, trustee, or adviser of our country’s leading banks, corporations, foundations, and charitable/religious organizations.

I regularly attend their periodic meetings (as faithfully as I have written this column every week without fail for almost 17 years despite occasional illness, travel, holidays, disability, death of loved ones, etc.) of these groups, thereby keeping my mind active and challenged all the time. Similarly, I am fortunate to have been given access to golf and tennis clubs where I play several times weekly to enhance my physical, mental, and social well-being, thereby enabling me to keep up, however inadequate, with the trends and jargon of this hypersonic age.

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