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"[Science fiction] has become big business, where books are merchandised and promoted and distributed and placed on sale like slabs of bacon or cans of soup."
- Frederik Pohl

Max Detention (Virtual Counsel)  
  A software implementation of a lawyer; an artificially intelligent legal advisor.  

People suspected of acts of terror may still disappear into a legal state of limbo, but at least they get a vigorous personal legal representative.

"...we like to extend all due civil rights to our prisoners... so he's been assigned a VC - virtual counsel. We call our VC Max Detention. You don't have to pay him much mind."

...an old faded plasma display swung down from the ceiling to the right of the table. Chambers was shackled to the single chair across the table...

The screen switched on. They saw a backdrop of a bookcase filled with law books. A dark-suited figure faded in over the bookcase.

"...you have two-way with the VC," the [guard] said... "Max is better than some of the live ones."

The virtual counsel appeared to be about forty-five years old and prosperous. His eyes had a discerning expression and he exuded reassurance and confidence. "My provisional client is facing charges relating to an assault on two FBI agents...

"A protest against his transfer into secret federal custody has automatically been placed before the state intermediary security court in Olympia..." The VC sat back with a look of deep concern.

Technovelgy from Quantico, by Greg Bear.
Published by Vanguard in 2007
Additional resources -

Eventually, Max calls a halt to the questioning:

"We're done here," the virtual counsel said. The background on the screen began flashing red. "Questioning of my assignee must stop, and human counsel must be physically present for any further interviews."

In an interview with Technovelgy.com, Greg Bear had this to say about Max Detention:

    Technovelgy: Let me ask about Max Detention - you had a lot of fun with that.

    Greg Bear: [Laughs] "A little bit of satire there. Following what's happened with habeus corpus and so on, I think we are going to look at a period of time when the Federal detention systems could get a little bit gnarly. It's certainly bad in Gitmo, but what if it were to extend to local jurisdictions, which has been requested. This is what they would like to do. Is it a good thing? Perhaps not. So I do satirize it a little bit. Although I do think this computer 'Max Headroom' is perhaps better than some public defenders. And maybe more reliable."

    T: This may be a personal question, but are you opposed to the idea of Gitmo-style detention centers where people just disappear for years?

    GB: "In terms of public relations alone, it's a disaster. It removes our high profile as a moral nation. It's reprehensible, it's not effective, I don't see anything coming out of it, it's bad planning and the fact is that the Geneva convention was signed by many, many countries for the basic reason that it helps protect your [own] troops.

    Violations of the Geneva convention during WWII were vigorously prosecuted. Now we stand aside and say that we do not need to be a part of the international community? I can't see where that makes any sense.

    There's this "24 hour" scenario where the guy knows where the nuclear weapon is and you have to torture him to get the information out of him. As the British will tell you, and the people who are tortured will tell you, that's not very effective. People will say anything, and how will you judge that information? When you torture someone and they've given you information, you have no way of judging its veracity. You may have people who've been trained to give you the same story.

    You can't trust [these prisons] to be self-accountable, you can't believe the information, you can't trust your government and if you can't trust your government you can't trust law enforcement."

    (Read the rest of Greg Bear's interview on Quantico.)

There are several prior uses of lawyer programs in science fiction; for example, in his 1990 novel Earth, David Brin writes about a Lawyer Program. Also, Greg Egan refers to a Law Expert System called 'LEX' in his 1991 story The Moat.

Also, check out these stories about the real-life software lawyer programs already in use and development. See AI Software 'Robot' Lawyers Next Year and 'Expert System' Found Practicing Law Without License.

Comment/Join this discussion ( 0 ) | RSS/XML | Blog This |

Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Quantico
  More Ideas and Technology by Greg Bear
  Tech news articles related to Quantico
  Tech news articles related to works by Greg Bear

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