RoboJudge 1932

In the legal community, judicial decision-making aided by or based on artificial intelligence is a hot topic. RoboJudge is the catchword, and you come across articles and seminars titled “Robojudges – the future or fiction?” and the like. When I attended a panel discussion on the topic recently, I recalled reading a similar thought many years go. It was a piece by Kurt Tucholsky, one of the most important journalists of the Weimar Republic (and a lawyer by training), published in 1932:

“The inventor Gustav Papenstrumpf from Niederschöneweide has invented an apparatus that automatically performs the entire function of the IV. Senat of the  Reichsgericht. However, it has been refrained from being introduced; the IV. Senate performs just as well as the apparatus.”*

Obviously, this was not science fiction or a technological prophecy of Tucholsky’s, but a caustic criticism of the jurisprudence of the Reichsgericht. The IV. Senate had jurisdiction over political penal law. Prior to Tucholsky’s piece, the Senate had decided the Ulm Reichswehr Trial – at which Adolf Hitler had made his infamous ‘declaration of legality’ – and the Weltbühne Trial against Carl von Ossietzky. In 1933, the Reichstag Fire Trial took place before the IV. Senate.

But still, Tucholsky’s remark makes you reflect on the nature and conditions of legal decision-making. Being as good as a RoboJudge isn’t good enough.

Incidentally, Tucholsky received his doctorate in law in 1914 based on a thesis on a highly technical aspect of mortgage law (“Die Vormerkung aus § 1179 BGB und ihre Wirkungen”). He never practised law.

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*”Der Erfinder Gustav Papenstrumpf aus Niederschöneweide hat einen Apparat erfunden, der die gesamte Tätigkeit des IV. Reichsgerichtssenats automatisch verrichtet. Von seiner Einführung ist jedoch abgesehen worden; der IV. Senat macht das genau so gut wie ein Automat.” (Kleine Nachrichten, 1932, available on zeno.org)

Photo: “Weltbühne” cover, Cover1930a, marked as public domain.

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