A great fear of mine is that with the blossoming of artificial intelligence (AI), my skills as a mediator will be replaced by a robot. This fear crept into my conscious again upon reading an article posted by Nick Hilborne on February 19, 2019 entitled , “Robot Mediator settle first ever court case.”

Evidently, in a court case in Canada, Graham Ross, a mediator and online dispute resolution expert  used AI algorithms using Smartsettle ONE software to assist two litigants in settling a civil money claims lawsuit.  The issue was £2000.00 (approximately $2650.00 USD) in fees due to a trainer from a client for personal training sessions.

A previous attempt at mediating by telephone had failed. One of the parties, being aware of the Smartsettle ONE software, agreed to try it as did the other party.

The software is rather straight forward:

 It allows parties to make offers and counter-offers by moving flags along sliders – a green one seen by the other side and a yellow flag which is not. Mr. Ross described the yellow flag as “effectively a blind bid”.

Mr. Ross said algorithms learn the bidding tactics and priorities of the parties employed and help “nudge” them into a settlement, without revealing their secret bids.

“The system uses algorithms to help parties avoid the negotiation dance where they put forward offers which are not their best. It also rewards the party that makes the biggest effort to settle.’

Settling the case would not reveal anything about their negotiating policy. That’s the beauty of this.’” (Id.)

 The article ends with the author noting that this tool will not put mediators out of business but will simply be an additional tool to help them resolve cases.

This assessment is probably accurate. While this software may be helpful in straightforward cases, it cannot take into consideration, much less deal with the often-emotional side of resolving disputes. We make decisions largely based on emotions, and most conflicts are fraught with emotional overlays and components. It takes a real live human, not a robot, to actively listen to a party’s story, reframe it and empathize with the party and her story. Every party needs to be heard, and only after a party feels that she has been heard, is she willing to move forward towards resolution. This is simply beyond the realm of a robot, even Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame.

So.. while I have some fear of being replaced by a robot or AI software, deep down I know it will never happen as the “human touch” is  irreplaceable.

… Just something to think about.        


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