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Black boxes

There are 3 types of black boxes while algorithmic tools are used by the court. Prof. Ching-Fu Lin explains in this article.
Black Box and Transparency

Conventional vs. Algorithmic Procedure

Black Box

Building on our discussion about the impact of algorithms in courtroom settings, it’s clear that their ambiguous nature often adds to the complexities.

As such, we aim to dissect why these algorithms are often seen as ‘black boxes’ within the legal sphere, contrast this with the idea of ‘transparency’, and shed light on how different black box aspects relate to transparency.

It’s essential to contrast conventional legal methods with those that employ algorithms. In standard legal practices, decisions are made by judges who consider the testimonies, establish facts, and apply pertinent laws to determine the outcome for the defendant. It’s worth noting that the defendant has the right to challenge these decisions, either by questioning the established facts or how the law was interpreted.

Typically, it’s the defendant’s lawyer who handles this, even if the defendant might not fully grasp the legal intricacies or feel confident challenging the judge’s decision. However, when decisions are influenced by algorithms, the situation changes noticeably. Even though judges might still use facts and relevant laws to make their decisions, having algorithmic inputs complicates matters for the defendant.

Three main types of ‘black boxes’ often hinder the defendant’s ability to challenge decisions effectively:

  • Legal Black Box: Due to proprietary restrictions.
  • Technical Black Box: Arises from the inherent complexity of algorithms.
  • Epistemic Black Box: Emerges from the knowledge gap between technical experts and laypeople.

© Ching-Fu Lin and NTHU, proofread by ChatGPT
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AI Ethics, Law, and Policy

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