Adjudication and the Turing Test

Legal trials resemble the Turing Test in many ways. First, let’s restate the original version of the Turing Test and then compare this test to the process of adjudication. In a famous paper published in 1950, the computer scientist Alan Turing described a simple question-and-answer game, which he calls the “imitation game,” involving three players in separate rooms — player A (a man), player B (a woman), and player C (an interrogator) — who may communicate with each other electronically or through an intermediary. In summary, Turing’s interrogator does not know whether player A or player B is a man or a woman, but he is allowed to put questions in writing to players A and B, and based on the responses provided by A and B, the interrogator must guess the true genders of A and B, or in Turing’s own words: “the object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman,” while “the object of the game for third player [i.e., player B, the woman] is to help the interrogator.”

Superficially, the original Turing Test or imitation game appears to be totally different from the process of litigation and dispute resolution in several ways. For instance, unlike most forms of civil and criminal litigation, in which all the main actors — judge, jury, lawyers, and parties — are present in the same room and communicate orally, in Turing’s game the players remain in separate rooms and must communicate with each other in writing, either electronically or through an intermediary. Also, Turing’s imitation game resembles more an inquisitorial system of adjudication than an adversarial system, since it is the interrogator himself (or herself) — not the other players or their representatives — who formulates the questions and evaluates the responses.

Nevertheless, despite these differences of form, the substantive parallels between Turing’s version of the imitation game and the process of adjudication are striking. First and foremost, both activities are “games” or activities in which the outcome is uncertain at the start of play. Consider, for example, the goal of the interrogator in the imitation game and the function of the judge (or jury, as the case may be) when adjudicating a dispute. In essence, the primary goal of the interrogator in the imitation game is to determine the true identity or gender of the players, but there is no guarantee that the interrogator will guess correctly. Likewise, the main goal of the judge or jury in adjudication (or “litigation games”) is to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant, that is, to determine whether or not the defendant has committed a wrongful act (and whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to a remedy), but again, there is no guarantee that the adjudicator will make the correct decision when deciding a case.

Furthermore, notice that ex ante or initial ignorance is a central feature of both imitation and litigation games: initial ignorance about the true genders of the players in the imitation game and initial ignorance about whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to a remedy as a matter of law in litigation games. In essence, both games attempt to solve this ignorance problem through a question-and-answer format. In one game, the questions are posed by an interrogator; in the other, they are posed by the parties or their legal advocates. But the underlying purposes and methods of both games are essentially the same: the interrogator (in the imitation game) and the judge/jury (in litigation games) wish to move from their initial state of ignorance to a state of knowledge, and moreover, they do so by submitting questions to the other players (or by allowing the players to submit questions to each other) and by evaluating the responses to the questions. That is, the interrogator/judge/jury share the same goal (the movement from ignorance to knowledge) and rely on the same methods to achieve this goal (the question-and-answer format).

Last but not least, yet another striking similarity is the presence of deception and strategic behavior in both the Imitation Game and in litigation games generally. In brief, deception and strategic behavior play a vital role in the original Turing Test because player A’s role in this game is to trick the interrogator into making an incorrect decision. He thus has a built-in and outright incentive to lie to the interrogator about his gender and the gender of player B. Likewise, deception and strategic behavior play a vital role in civil and criminal proceedings as well. Indeed, we would go further and say that litigation games are essentially exercises in deception and strategic behavior.*

*See: f.e. guerra-pujol, “the turing test and the legal process” (2012).

This entry was posted in Bayesian Reasoning, Games, Law, Philosophy, Probability and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Adjudication and the Turing Test

  1. Pingback: Turing Trials? | prior probability

  2. The Professor's Wife says:

    Love this!

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