Hesam Mohamadi

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1) The Use of AI and Statistical Methods in Legal Decision-Making

The use of COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) in deciding on the potential recidivism risk has been criticized in the recent years. The opponents of using the software argue that COMPAS violates people's right to individual judgement (Bolinger, Draft). Presumably COMPAS uses more than 137 features to decide on legal cases. The features such as age, criminal records, sex, etc. are used for classifying the defendants. The result is that two defendants with the same features (same age, same records. same sex, etc.) will be treated identically. Therefore, the defendants are not considered as individuals with different needs who live in different contexts. The decisions of COMPAS are especially problematic because the stakes are high in these decisions. While one should believe on the occurrence of an event with the likelihood of 80%, this level of confidence may not be enough for making beliefs that radically influence people's lives. 

Meanwhile, I think it is not also fair to leave people with the high risk of crime on their own. If we know that a certain person is more likely to commit a crime than average, the person is entitled to gain access to extra resources and supports, thereby reducing the probability of committing the crime to the level of ordinary citizens. I argue that in deciding about the distribution of resources, the stakes are not as high as deciding on whether one should leave the prison. Therefore, one can justifiably rely on the statistical/probabilistic approaches (such as the decision-making of COMPAS) to make such decisions. By providing opportunities for the less fortunate members of community, the state can guarantee the prevention of crimes without the unfair use of the coercive force.

How similar are the Precogs in Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002) and COMPAS in the modern legal system?

2) Vagueness and Non-literal Speech in Law

A term is vague if and only if there are cases – borderline cases – to which neither the term nor its negation is justifiably applied. There are vague terms in law. For instance, it is clear that the term “business establishment” in Unruh Civil Right Act applies to hotels and does not apply to houses, but it is not clear if it applies to Boy Scout of America or not.[1] Many philosophers have tried to present an account to explain the implications of vagueness in law, both for law and for language. One of these accounts proposed by Roy Sorensen holds that judges necessarily lie when they face borderline cases. Sorensen explains that judges, like other language users, cannot justifiably apply a vague term or its negation to borderline cases; however, they have a professional obligation to choose either of the options. Resultantly, judges necessarily lie when they decide borderline cases, Sorensen says.

I argue that there is an assumption that Sorensen has taken uncontroversial which holds that the legal application of a term is permissible only if its ordinary application is allowed according to the rules of language. In contrast, I show that while judges do not apply vague terms to borderline cases (since it is unjustifiable as Sorensen explains), they use vague terms metaphorically. The main duty of judges is to request fitting legal consequences for involved parties. As a result, using a vague term for a borderline case just implies that judges intend the same consequences for the borderline case that they would intend for a clear case. This account not only refutes Sorensen’s counter-intuitive argument, but it also accounts for certain legal decisions in the history of modern legal system.

[1] See: Randall v. Orange Country Council (1998).

In addition, I am currently writing a review on The Nature and Value of Vagueness in the Law (Law and Practical Reason) by Hrafn Asgeirsson. 

3) Nothingness

3) Value Sensitive Design: Towards Feasible Flexibility

Philosophy of Technology and Value Sensitive Design have gained noticeable attention in recent years, and they have become mature areas of philosophical studies. One of the pillars of Value Sensitive Design is the stress on the claim that technical artifacts and sociotechnical systems (hereinafter “technologies”) should promote the current values of society. To achieve this goal, engineers sometimes ought to design flexible technologies to facilitate promoting different values in different situations (for instance, for the situations that the values of society change), while they sometimes have to design inflexible technologies that only serve a singular value. However, in certain technologies always being flexible or always being inflexible is not desirable. We may need to temporarily take flexibility from a flexible technology or add flexibility into an inflexible technology. Thus, proposing a design approach that enables shifting between flexibility and inflexibility is advantageous. In this paper, I explain that the practice of computer programming has eye-opening intuitions for other engineers in this respect: Programmers have been embedding a feature into their designs that, considering the literature of the subject, can be called as adaptable flexibility, and I propose that the same feature should be considered in all engineering designs.

Computer programmers differentiate between two controlling cores that determine the tasks of technologies. One core is responsible for realizing the direct orders of users. For example, in Care Robots a controlling core is in charge of fulfilling daily needs of the patient. This core embeds flexibility into the technology. Meanwhile, another core is in charge of restricting flexibility if the predominant values are at stake. For instance, in care robots, the tasks of the first core are suspended and the second core takes control when the safety of the patient is in danger. This core thus realizes adaptable flexibility. In this paper, I argue that embedding two excluding controlling cores that are sensitive to different inputs – like in the case of Care Robots – is the key to adaptable flexibility. I propose that other engineers have to pay attention to this feature – if they already do not – as they should consider shifting between flexibility and inflexibility, while embedding adaptable flexibility into their designs is not necessarily desirable in all cases.

Presented in the Graduate Conference PIPR at Carleton University, Ottawa, on 1 Nov. 2019.  Doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.12208.00003.

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