Many civil lawsuits can be avoided if the concerned parties first go through the process of mediation, allowing a neutral third party help the two to reach an agreement. A mediator does not make a decision, but offers suggestions and compromises that both parties would agree on.
Using Artificial Intelligence, game theory, and argumentation, a new method of alternative dispute resolution can settle arguments without going as far as mediation. Online Dispute Resolution (or ODR) is cheaper, faster, and more private than a civil trial. In addition, since it is online, the disputing factions don’t have to meet face-to-face—helpful in cases where there is a history of violence between parties—and the mediation can take place at any time in case participants are in different countries. ODR is often used for e-commerce disputes.
Online Dispute Resolution works by organizing the issues in dispute and offering solutions that could satisfy both parties. It uses statements and arguments made by the arguers to determine possible ways to resolve the issue.
Since it is electronic and everything is documented, ODR is consistent and will make the same kind of decision for the same kind of problem. Its methods of reaching a solution are common knowledge, so the final outcome is less likely to be criticized. It will also make law firms more efficient, and it is a relatively easy and painless way of reaching a compromise.
In these ways, the automated arbiter is more effective than a human one. It can more easily handle complex decisions and satisfy disagreements between two humans. However, due to the nature of the programs used, it has many disadvantages as well. Many Online Dispute Resolution programs can only handle specific kinds of disputes in which both parties have already discussed things, agreed to basic facts surrounding the issue, and determined the general range that one of the parties must pay for the damages. ODR is also impersonal and calculated, and is unable to appeal to the emotions of the people involved and allow them to vent their feelings as an actual mediator would. People might not have proper access to the Internet or afford the costs of going through such a procedure, particularly in petty e-commerce disputes. Also, ODR automatically creates an electronic record of the dispute that either party could save or print out without the other’s knowledge or consent, raising serious confidentiality issues.
While programs like the ODR can use logic to resolve issues in diverse and complicated cases, it may be best to take the “old-fashioned” route of allowing humans to take charge of cases when emotional decisions need to be made. There are many shades of gray in human thought. These processes are difficult for a black-and-white computer to comprehend, and forcing it to do so may allow it to make poor decisions. Even so, computers can handle many seemingly impossible or emotional problems with surprising accuracy. Whether it is best to trust the computer or not is up to the individual person with a lawsuit on the line. One thing is certain; computers used in this field will adapt and will be able to “think” more and more emotionally as AI develops.