AI and algorithms are increasingly being used in alternative dispute resolution – but can a robot really replace the flesh and blood of a trained mediator?
Last year saw a successful settlement concerning £2,000 of unpaid counselling fees in an online dispute by a ‘robot mediator’ – in this case not so much a robot as an AI tool designed to bring parties closer together through a blind-bidding system. Where the issue in dispute is simply how much to pay I can see how AI can be useful. And while not based on algorithms, the blind bidding service offered by IPOS is also a quick and cost-effective way to settle monetary disputes.
But disputes are rarely just about the money. As a mediator, I will read the room to work out where the power struggles might be and to try to understand the real motivation behind a dispute. Mediators have instinctive abilities to see when a party needs a reminder of the alternative to a settlement or an emotional nudge towards doing a deal that in the long term they know will be better than carrying on fighting. It’s why the human touch of mediation is essential.
Can a robot be sensitive?
I remember mediating a particularly difficult dispute where an owner of a large construction company had died unexpectedly, and without a will. The dispute was presented to me as a financial dispute as the company had been left with debts, outstanding mortgages and guarantees for loans where husband and wife were co-guarantors and co-signatories.
However, as the day unravelled it transpired that the owner had died not in the arms of his wife but another lady, who was present at the mediation. And so there were Inheritance Act claims to be dealt with in the mix. The plenary with both women in attendance was awkward but once the difficult conversations had taken place we could then sit down with accountants and work out what was left in the estate to distribute. I wonder how a robot would have tackled such an unforeseen – and sensitive – situation.