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Sunday, May 16, 2010


Last year I proposed as Big Engineering #40 creation of a computer programme to provide impartial judgement in international law.
the establishment of an open source computer programme which could determine the legality of national actions under international law.
It seems the EU are largely there ahead of me. They have created such a beast for ruling on EU laws & regulation. Since such regulations are far more extensive than the relatively small number of treaties & precedents (Nuremberg Trials etc) applying any programme that can do the former can certainly issue judgements over the latter.

The EU's programme
European researchers have created a legal analysis query engine that combines artificial intelligence, game theory and semantics to offer advice, conflict prevention and dispute settlement for European law, and it even supports policy.

European law is complex, many layered and expanding. There are thousands of regulations, so many that compliance is difficult, time-consuming and expensive...

A lawyer called ALIS

Thankfully, help is at hand. The ALIS project has developed a computerised platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI), game theory and semantic technologies to ‘understand’ and track the regulations in a large, and expanding area of expertise – in this case IPR.

ALIS sought to develop a working system in IPR to tackle the fundamental technological challenges before expanding it to more areas later on.

The system is much more than a simple database of relevant legal regulations. It uses insights from game theory to help contentious parties come to an amicable agreement, either through conflict prevention or dispute resolution, and it can assist lawmaking too.

Game theory looks at how strategic interactions between rational people lead to outcomes reflecting real player preferences. In the Ultimatum game, for example, two players decide how a sum is to be divided. The proposer suggests what the split should be, the responder either can accept or reject this offer. But if the responder rejects the split, both players get nothing.

Researchers have found that often proposers offer 50:50, even though the responder might accept less. They also found that responders always reject splits where they get less than 20 percent. In economics, this would be considered irrational, because the responder loses too, but this illustrates that fairness is a very important element in strategic interactions.

These types of interactions can be rendered mathematically thanks to game theory, and the concept is so powerful that it has migrated from applied mathematics to social sciences like economics, political science, international relations and philosophy, as well as hard sciences like biology, engineering and computer science.

Game theory can be used to develop algorithms that find equilibria in games, markets, computational auctions, peer-to-peer systems, security and information markets. And, now with ALIS, it is available for legal systems too. This concept of equilibria supports conflict prevention, dispute resolution and offers decision support for lawmaking.

A key factor in the system is its test for regulatory compliance. This is very powerful. It can help citizens, companies and lawyers quickly scan the relevant legal corpus to discover if they are compliant. It is a key factor for the other roles in the ALIS system as well.

For conflict prevention, dispute resolution and lawmaking, the ALIS first establishes if the parties, or the proposed legislation, are compliant with current law. Once compliance is established, the system can present a series of options based on an analysis of the potential conflict or dispute, or it can provide information to further assist lawmakers to formulate policy.

I am sending a copy of this article yo the International Court of Justice at & will publish their response.

That seems to be the Iranian nuclear crisis solved then & almost every other international dispute. :-)

Or perhaps governments won't actually be interested in finding just solutions to international crisis since, to quote Mencken "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary" & it is only government which is the problem. But to think that would be dreadfully cynical.

I will publish the response of anybody from the International Court & we will see.

In any case things can rarely be uninvented & the very fact that we now know that just, verifyably monitored & impartial judgement is available will mitigate against any nation or alliance that refuses to ask for it. If it doesn't happen immediately we at least know that any such decisions will in future be subjected to such tests.

I would certainly be interested in seeing if such a programme could support the International Court's decision that they could not render judgement on the legality of NATO's attack on Yugoslavian purely because Yugoslavia having been expelled from the UN was not at the time member, while being willing to render judgement on Yugoslavia's actions in Bosnia & Hercegovina, which was not at the time & never had been a member of the UN.

If impartial justice is technologically available & the International Court is one the bodies that refuse it so much the worse for that "court".

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I would be very interested to see how this works. It seems to me that for the thing to be viable it would need to rely to a larger extent on the AI aspect and les on the pre-programmed stuff as you could simply rig the program itself or the conditions going in. I confess to a shocking lack of knowledge on the whole AI subject but what interesting possibilities.
I don't think anybody knows much about AI including the scientists trying to do it. We have computers now with as many connections as the human brain yet haven't produced anything with the pure intelligence of a cat. However Law is a very specialised area full of firm rules rather than the "fuzzy logic" we seem to use.

It would be absolutely necessary for the programme to be available open source & the evidence put in. Then it could be checked. Justice not openly seen to be being done won't work.
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