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computational law

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Computational law is the area of legal informatics focusing on the automation of formerly manual processes and the integration of legal information with other applications and systems. Computational law systems automate processes such as compliance checking, legal planning and regulatory analysis.

There are a number of different approaches to computational law:

  • Algorithmic law attempts to create a legal language code that is machine-readable like METAlex and even machine-executable like the Hamurrabi Project.
  • Empirical analysis looks to citations, often used in law, to analyze and create citation indices and large graphs of legal precedents referred to as citation networks.
  • Visualization of legal code and of relationships between laws and decisions can reveal large-scale patterns that might not be revealed by other methods of analysis. Visualization draws from citation networks.

Computational law is not used only in legal applications and court rooms. TurboTax uses computational law to make calculations based on tax laws to process tax returns. The non-profit organization Creative Commons uses computational law to provide custom-generated copyright licenses. Legal analytics uses big data, expert critique and user-friendly tools to provide business intelligence and performance measuring solutions. Self-driving vehicles take many things into consideration in choosing the safest driving options, including integrated information about transportation laws.

Although law has not yet been made a formalized study in the way that mathematics and science have, attempts to do so are not new. Gottfried Leibniz was a pioneer of computational law 300 years ago, attempting to reduce law to a matter of computations. Modern attempts at furthering computational law focus on creating a language that can explicitly define laws and allow artificial intelligence to make automated rulings. Due to the specificity with which legal language is used, law is well-suited to definitions through computer language. Stephen Wolfram, a veteran language coder, is currently working on Wolfram Language, an example of a computational law language.

Integration of IT and increasing use of automation is a pervasive and multi-discipline trend in fields including computational economics, computational linguistics, computational healthcare and computational design.

This was last updated in August 2017

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