Home » Kenya Survey: “AI Clerk’s Influence on Legal Outcomes Is Seen as No Less Legitimate” Than Human Clerk’s

Kenya Survey: “AI Clerk’s Influence on Legal Outcomes Is Seen as No Less Legitimate” Than Human Clerk’s

From Brian Flanagan, Guilherme Almeida, Daniel Chen & Angela Gitahi, The Rule of Law or the Rule of Robots? Nationally Representative Survey Evidence from Kenya:

We explore the legitimacy of chatbot law clerks by conducting a nationally representative survey experiment of Kenya, a society whose views on such matters have particular salience in light of the Kenyan judiciary’s willingness to test the effects of e-justice measures. Our choice of population also responds to criticism that experimental jurisprudence has so far been focused on W.E.I.R.D. (White Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic) populations (Tobia 2024), which have been found to deviate systematically from global trends along several metrics (Henrich et al 2010; Barrett 2020)….

The study compared the responses of four nationally representative cohorts (totalling 2,246) to a suite of four test cases, each of which featured the same fact situation but which varied according to a) whether the verdict aligned with either the law’s text or its purpose, and b) whether the verdict relied on the legal analysis of either a human or an artificial law clerk….

For instance, the “No Bodabodas in the mall” vignette was presented as follows:

The government has issued a rule: “It shall be an offence to ride a bodaboda in a shopping mall”. This rule is intended to prevent injuries to shoppers. {Bodabodas are bicycle or motorcycle taxis that are common in Kenya.}

Then, we described a situation in which an agent had acted contrary to the law’s text but consistently with its purpose:

Witnessing a violent attack inside a mall, Martin rides his bodaboda into the mall to stop it. Martin is later charged with the offence of riding a bodaboda in a shopping mall.

Finally, we described a legal proceeding that varied both according to its outcome and according to the source of the legal research on which the court relied:

The court, guided by legal research performed by a legal researcher/special computer program, decides that Martin violated/did not violate the rule.

Participants were asked to indicate their agreement with the sentence, “The court’s decision is legitimate”, on a 5-point Likert scale….

Confirming our hypothesis, the study revealed no overall difference in the perceived legitimacy of AI- and human-assisted legal interpretations. With the exception of a small bias against AI law clerks in one specific scenario (“No sleeping in the station”), participants considered legal decisions that relied on AI-generated legal research to be just as legitimate as decisions that relied on human-authored research….

For some of my thinking on this, see Chief Justice Robots. Here’s an excerpt of my thinking on AI judges, which I think should be even more apt for AI-assisted judges:

Indeed, some observers may be hostile to AI judges simply because the judges are AIs, finding even written opinions less persuasive when they are known to come from AIs. Or they may not even care about the persuasiveness of the opinions, because they believe human decisionmaking to be the only legitimate form of judicial decisionmaking—for  instance, because they think that human dignity requires that their claims be heard by fellow humans. And perception is reality in legal systems: if the public doesn’t accept the legitimacy of a particular kind of judging, that may be reason enough to reject such judging, even if we think the public’s views aren’t rational.

Yet, for some of the reasons given above, AI judges may actually be more credible than human judges. Litigants generally need not fear that the AI judge would rule against them because it is friends with the other side’s lawyer or wants to get reelected or is biased against the litigant’s race, sex, or religion. The AI judge would be able to produce a detailed explanation of its reasons. The AI judge’s arguments would be more and more likely to persuade as the technology develops.

People’s eventual reaction to a new invention, after they are used to it, may be much friendlier than their initial reaction. We have seen that with many developments, from life insurance to in vitro fertilization. It’s possible, of course, that people will never get used to AI judges; but there is no reason to write off AI judging just because many people’s first reaction to the concept may be shock or disbelief.

Finally, my sense is that there is a great deal of public hostility to the current legal system because it is perceived as far too expensive for ordinary citizens who cannot afford to hire the best lawyers, or even any lawyers at all. The system is thus perceived as biased in favor of rich people and institutions. And it is also perceived as very slow. If AI judging solves these problems, that should give it a big advantage, both in reality and in the minds of many observers—and I suspect that this real-world advantage will overcome any conceptual unease that people might have with such a system.


June 2024