Lawyers need not fear an immediate rise of the machines, it emerged today, after a discussion on making arbitration fit for the future concluded that artificial intelligence (AI) will not be able to issue rulings in the near-future.

Although panellists said AI would undoubtedly cause changes to the legal profession and have an impact in arbitration disputes, it was accepted a final decision could not be handed over to a machine.

International firm Hogan Lovells, which hosted a discussion at its Hong Kong office, asked whether given that AI can assess likely outcomes of cases and perform document reviews, it is realistic to ask if this could be extended to actually making a final ruling.

The discussion comes against a continuous debate about the impact of ‘lawtech’.

James Kwan, partner at Hogan Lovells, said there are ‘few laws’ that explicitly ban robots from being decision makers. He alluded to the Code of Civil Procedure in France, which makes references to arbitral decisions being made by a ‘person’, as one that does appear to reject the prospect. ‘Other laws may have implicitly excluded the possibility,’ he added.

However, Kwan referenced proposals going through the European Parliament that would afford ‘legal status’ to robots and ensure that highly capable AI have recognised rights and responsibilities. ‘It’s amazing that we have even got to the point where we can have a discussion on this,’ Kwan said, adding: ‘I think lawyers are safe for the time being’.

Kwan said AI was getting better at predicting outcomes. He referred to a controversial study reported by the New York Times in which AI was able to guess people’s sexuality based on photos and limited information with far more accuracy than people.

However, Kwan noted the AI was unable to explain how it was able to reach the decision. ‘This is a key requirement for lawyers and disputing parties,’ he said. ‘Until it can provide reasons for a decision I don’t think there will be an AI arbitrator.’

Kwan explained that although an AI arbitrator would be free from bias, it would be unable to read human emotions. Unlike a computer, a human brain cannot be hacked, he added.