Column: Automated Justice

It’s kind of here already…

Imagine it’s 2025 CE: You are hurtling down South Road during peak hour, almost hitting 15km/h and listening to the latest re-re-re-release of U2s greatest hits with the token new track (which you skip over every time). Casually checking Facebook (or whatever the latest social media is these days), you sip your coffee. After all, the car is doing all of the driving for you. Suddenly, the brakes engage and the seatbelt constricts across your chest, there is a thump from the back of your car and louder crash as the front hits someone else. Won’t this make for an interesting status update?

That morning, Mr Cyclist had an appointment with his lawyer’s computer. Perhaps the best part of it was that he didn’t require any personal contact with the lawyer. Instead, he verified his identity then confirmed that the list of assets stored on their servers was accurate and in date. From there, it was as easy as going through the assets, line by line, and selecting who each item should go to in the case of his death, before allocating any remaining passwords and digital accounts of his estate. The computer compared this to the default legal proceedings for his jurisdiction, before sending a copy to his lawyer, complete with necessary legal obligation. She had approved it before he had reached the receptionist.

Fortunately, Mr Cyclist didn’t need the document quite yet. His MyBike had sensed the traffic and done its best to arrest his downhill descent, facilitated by live communication with all of the cars involved. Your car in particular, had adjusted its forward trajectory to provide the shallowest angle of impact possible, increasing the time it took Mr Cyclist to crash. All of this took place in the time it took you to comment on your best friend’s new puppy.

You have (probably) graduated university by now, perhaps even have a job and can afford to pay the bills. Perhaps you haven’t, and you can’t, and the car you were being driven in was stolen. Or your mum’s. I won’t judge you, but the car might. Both the cars and the bike transmit a mountain of information to all insurance parties involved about everything from environmental factors to the rider’s hydration levels and your level of (in)attentiveness on the manual brake override. Forget about privacy, the owner signed off on that in the computer generated T&Cs at purchase. Within a matter of minutes the computers at the insurance companies have generated a dozen offers and counteroffers for who pays what, and have an agreement, already accounting for injuries sustained and projected costs for treatment needed. Everyone involved, including the car manufacturer, has been billed appropriately and is ready to get on with their day. Around 3pm that afternoon an over (or under) caffeinated human may even verify the results.

We are generating and sharing more and more data about ourselves all of the time and companies are already collecting and storing it. It is only a matter of time before insurance agencies begin acquiring it, and devices you use begin requiring it. This will allow us to automate civil legal proceedings at an increasing rate, making them more accessible while being even less understood.

As you climb back in your vehicle you notice that your phone is already recommending a near by mechanic and barista. As for the spilt coffee, you may have to clean that up for yourself.

Words by Kevin Clark