Chief Justice John Roberts is a Robot
Ian Kerr and Carissima Mathen
The title of this article is not pejorative. It is suggestive. It asks readers to imagine the following counterfactual.
Around the globe, people awaken to some very strange news. In different languages, the same headline thunders: “Chief Justice John Roberts is a Robot.” Badly injured during an ambush and attempted kidnapping while attending a conference at the House of Lords, Roberts’ captors boldly delivered-him-up to the Royal London Hospital and sped off. In urgent and unusual circumstances—and in breach of US and international protocols—a team of emergency surgeons cut him open to discover that his biology ran only skin deep.
After weeks of follow-up investigations and interviews, it is learned that “John Roberts” did indeed graduate from Harvard Law School in 1979 and that “his” legal career unfolded exactly as documented in public life. However, John Roberts, Robot (JR-R) was in fact a highly advanced prototype of the US Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, developed during the period chronologically corresponding with what would have been “his” high school and college years. After several (earlier) A-series JRs had secretly annihilated the Turing test, US Robots decided to consolidate its successful AI with emerging robotic technologies in the new R-series machines. As part of its research and development, the company initiated a singular, long-term experiment with a lifelike, autonomous social robot that was virtually indistinguishable from human beings.Following a successful (though embellished) application to Harvard Law, US Robots unleashed JR-R on the world. Like Aristotle’s unmoved prime mover, JR-R was left to its own devices. US Robots made no interference with the robot’s moral, legal or social development. Coded, like the best law students, JR-R was programmed to learn how to learn, with no pre-programmed politics or agenda—other than the blind ambitions of a typical 1L. The rest, as they say, is history.
In its role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, JR-R wrote and participated in a number of landmark decisions. In this article we investigate the legitimacy of JR-R’s tenure on the Court. Through this philosophical thought experiment, we consider whether it matters that a machine generated legal reasons for judgment.
With this counterfactual, we set the stage for future philosophical discussions about expert systems, artificial intelligence and the coming era of mechanical jurisprudence—an era where the production of at least some legal knowledge and decision-making is delegated to machines and algorithms, not people.
Ian Kerr and Carissima Mathen will present Chief Justice John Roberts is a Robot on Saturday, April 5th at 8:30 AM with discussant Jack Balkin at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center in Coral Gables, Florida.