J. Scott Applewhite/AP
WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts turned his attention Sunday to the promise and shortcomings of artificial intelligence in the federal courts in an annual report that made no mention of Supreme Court ethics or legal controversies involving Donald Trump.
Describing artificial intelligence as the “latest technological frontier,” Roberts discussed the pros and cons of computer-generated content in the legal profession. His comments come days after the latest case of AI-generated fake legal citations in official court records, in a case involving former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
“Always a bad idea,” Roberts wrote in his year-end report, “any use of AI requires caution and humility.”
At the same time, the Chief Justice acknowledged that AI would make it much easier for people who don't have a lot of money to access the courts. “These tools have the welcome potential to soften any mismatch between available resources and urgent needs in our court system,” Roberts wrote.
The report comes at the end of a year in which a series of stories have been questioned Ethical practices of judges And the court responded to critics by adopting its first code of conduct. Most of those stories failed to disclose travel, other hospitality and additional financial ties to Justices Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crowe and wealthy conservative donors. The Koch brothers. But Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor are also under scrutiny.
The country is entering the start of an election year that looks set to entangle the court in one way or another in the ongoing criminal cases against Trump and efforts to disqualify the former Republican president from the 2024 ballot.
Roberts, along with his eight colleagues, does not discuss cases that are or may come before the Supreme Court. In past statements, he has advocated for improved security and pay raises for federal judges, praised judges and their assistants for handling the coronavirus pandemic and highlighted other aspects of technology changes in the courts.
Roberts once famously compared umpires to umpires who call balls and strikes but don't make the rules. In his latest statement, he turned to a different sport, tennis, to make the point that technology won't replace umpires anytime soon.
In many tennis matches, optical technology, rather than human line umpires, now “determines whether a 130-mile-per-hour serve is in or out. These decisions are accurate to the millimeter. And there is no choice; the ball is hit or not. In contrast, legal decisions are often gray areas. inclusive, they must still use human judgment,” Roberts wrote.
Anticipating the growing use of artificial intelligence in the courts, Roberts wrote: “I predict that human judges will be around for a while. But I predict that judicial work — especially at the trial level — will be significantly affected by AI.”