Another excerpt from Chapter 12 of our recently published work: Mediation in Australia (LexisNexis, 2018):
Among the factors that will impinge on future mediation and its societal roles are new technologies and new forms of knowledge that are relevant to conflict, decision-making and mediation.
In terms of the knowledge factor we already have one set of experts tunnelling the mountain of computer technology and artificial intelligence to unearth the algorithms and codes, apps and devices which can provide negotiation support, improved predictive analytics and more efficient data processing in mediation’s better cause. It is difficult to predict the nature, extent and potential impacts of such developments. Moreover, much of the technology that will transform the styles of mediation practice into the future has yet to be invented. The exponential progress in technological advances undoubtedly means, however, that mediation will operate differently to the process as we now know it. Electronic and online tools will increasingly find their way into mediation spaces and enhance the flexibility, accessibility and virtuality of the system. Mediators may not themselves need the ability to code, but they will need understanding and capacity to utilise and maximise the benefits of new digital technologies. They will also need basic knowledge and terminology to communicate effectively with scientists and technologists so they can influence the direction and outcomes of their tunnelling.
In terms of new knowledge another set of experts is tunnelling a mountain to unearth clearer understandings of the DNA equivalent of conflict and disputation. These labours will reveal deeper knowledge of these phenomena and their cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioural dimensions. The knowledge will extend to better understanding of how humans make decisions, of implicit, cognitive and social biases and of the impact of environmental and symbolic factors on negotiations. We envisage that understandings of negotiation, mediation and decision-making will be better informed and become more nuanced and sophisticated through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches across disciplines such as anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology and political science. In particular, knowledge of the neuroscience of decision-making, of rationality and of human biases and responses to conflict will become standard mediator knowledge platforms from which they can attempt to achieve effective practice — their understandings of the brain will empower master mediators to match, and mix, their metaphors to suit particular clients and circumstances. These understandings will also inform the development of mediation theory, ethics and values.
Whether the two tunnels will be found to meet within the same mountain remains to be seen. On one hand, the cognitive and neuro-science knowledge base will allow mediators to comprehend the deepest motives, needs and prejudices of their clients in all their humanistic weaknesses and paradoxes. On the other, the technological innovations will purport to negate the factors of uncertainty, irrationality and indecision which cause mediating parties to revert to survival mode and avoid settlements. The two levels of expertise could have both synchronous and inconsistent implications. Algorithms hold the promise of eliminating problematic cognitive and social biases, but could be themselves biased in their construction. Deeper humanistic impulses, both negative and positive, might not be susceptible to capture in software, apps and analytics. Robo-mediator, along with robo-negotiator and eventually robo-judge, will have unsurpassable levels of proficiency and efficiency in some dimensions, but lack the humanistic dimensions emphasised by social and behavioural scientists. Those with more expertise in these two areas than we have will both contribute to and evaluate the forthcoming fusions and fissions.
We welcome your responses to these thoughts.
Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field