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Lawyers in Science Fiction
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1991 and 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Every wonder why their are almost no lawyers in SF stories? I
think I know the answer. To paraphrase Dickens's Mr. Bumble,
the law is a ASCII.
That is, there's very little genius in most law practice; rather,
it's simply a matter of being aware of the law, finding
precedents, and summarizing same. Database work, in other words.
We often see in SF the concept of "auto-docs" doctors having
been replaced by automation. But we're a long way from being
able to replace the manual skill of a surgeon with a machine.
However, we're very close to being able to replace the medical /
diagnostic knowledge of a doctor with a computerized expert
system. Because you still need surgeons to do the actual work,
doctors' jobs are fairly secure for the foreseeable future.
Most lawyers, on the other hand, will be easily replaced by
expert systems. Legislators and judges and advocates in
sensitive cases will hopefully always remain human, but most
other law work is something that could very easily be done by
machine. That's why, to take an easy example, even though a ship
like the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation
carries school teachers and barbers and bartenders, it doesn't
have any lawyers. When it needs one (as it did to fight Ardalla,
the sexy devil lady), it has an [ambulatory] computer, Data, do
the work precisely because it's an easily computerized
Of course, I doubt we'll ever have robot lawyers arguing in front
of robot judges. But the majority of lawyers virtually never
appear in front of a judge anyway: they do easily automated
tasks such as real-estate law, preparing wills, most corporate
work, and so on. It is no coincidence that the legal term
"boilerplate" has become a common term in computing circles.
A machine could easily become good at asking the right questions
on our behalf. If A and B are true, C is false, D is
indeterminate, and the client is willing to take the case to
trial and has X to spend, then ask question 104. That's
precisely what most lawyers do, and precisely the kind of thing
expert systems are good at.
More Good Reading
An excerpt from Rob's SF courtroom drama, Illegal Alien
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