Robots showing promise in mediation: Huberman

By Paul Russell, Contributor

Advanced robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will play important roles in mediation and arbitration in the near future, predicts Toronto litigator and commercial arbitrator Marvin Huberman, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

“These are definitely tools that show great promise,” Huberman tells

“The challenge for dispute resolvers and problem-solvers is to really think creatively about how artificial intelligence can be used effectively,” he says.

While intelligent robots will probably never completely replace human mediators, the potential of AI, analytics and advanced robotics are just being discovered, says Huberman, president of the ADR Institute of Ontario.

According to a recent article, an online tool that uses AI algorithms in place of a human mediator settled a three-month-long dispute in less than an hour.

“Software like this definitely has viable applications that can and must be explored further,” Huberman says.

While these programs are now limited to simple mediation cases, where liability is established, and only the dollar value of the damages is in dispute, Huberman envisions the capability of these programs to increase as the technology develops.

“By integrating optimization algorithms into negotiation software, developers are creating systems that are intelligent,” he says.

There is a wide range of opinion about AI’s potential, Huberman says, giving the example of physicist Stephen Hawking, “who warned it could replace humans altogether.”

On the other end of the scale, he says Microsoft founder Bill Gates says AI will spur an economic revival in the United States as robots take over mundane or routine jobs.

“He's of the view that intelligent machines will create new jobs or new job categories for sure, and that people will be able to pursue their dream occupation on their own terms,” Huberman says.

The human element involved in dispute resolution currently limits how AI can be used, he says.

“Complex interactive and personal discussions are really at the heart of dispute resolution,” Huberman explains.

“In many cases, the people that come to us require a very high level of trust and need us to listen to intimate or even painful disclosures before we can resolve a dispute,” he adds.

While the human element is very important, Huberman says there is definitely a role for AI in mediation, especially as relational agents — autonomous programs that are capable of goal-directed behaviour — that could be used for tasks such as introducing participants to the process.

“You could have an empathetic relational agent who can review and repeat many introductory kinds of things, such as what is mediation, what should you expect from the process, what is your role in it, and so on,” he says

These programs can also be used to gather and analyze information from each party, Huberman says.

“Many people might find it easier to make some kinds of disclosures to an emphatic artificial intelligence device rather than share intimate information with a human.”

He says these machines could also correlate and summarize the information, and make it available to the human mediator.

“Relational agents can record and organize information in an interactive and conversational way that is collaborative and encouraging,” says Huberman.

“Suggestions can be defined, and they can move a discussion forward, building upon the ideas that the software has suggested.”

While some older adults are skeptical of the promise of AI, Huberman says young people are usually more amenable to using it.

“They have been raised with it,” he says, noting that a survey showed that those 19 to 30 years of age would rather give up a partner than forgo their connection to the web or their cellphone.

“That age range will welcome the day that AI relational agents are an integral part of their lives.”

Huberman says many firms are accelerating investment in AI and intelligence technologies, which will transform many workplaces.

“Mediators should strategically think about their future,” he advises. “Human mediators will probably never be completely replaced by AI, but who’s to say?”

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