In my last blog post I wrote about Technology Trends for 2021.  Now, let’s take a another, longer look ahead to general worldwide trends for 2025, based on the PEW Research Center’s recent article on the subject (Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges | Pew Research Center).  PEW surveyed 915 innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists in the areas of technology, innovation, and social change to see what they think things will look like in 2025 in a post-pandemic world.  In sum, “a plurality think sweeping societal change will make life worse for most people in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Still, a portion believe life will be better in a ‘tele-everything’ world where workplaces, health care and social activity improve.”  In particular, “their broad and nearly universal view is that people’s relationship with technology will deepen as larger segments of the population come to rely more on digital connections for work, education, health care, daily commercial transactions and essential social interactions.

It is the tele-everything aspect of the future that drives most of the predicted changes, both negative and positive.  For instance, those who are tech-savvy will distance themselves from the rest of the population, worsening economic inequality – especially as technological change eliminates (and creates) jobs.  Next, big technology firms will become even more powerful as they “exploit their market advantages and mechanisms such as artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that seem likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of their users.”  The third predicted technology-related change is the multiplying spread of disinformation “as authoritarians and polarized populations wage warring information campaigns with their foes.”

Nevertheless, the experts also predict that there will be several important, positive impacts from these technological changes:

  • “inaugurate new reforms aimed at racial justice and social equity as critiques of current economic arrangements – and capitalism itself – gain support and policymaker attention;
  • enhance the quality of life for many families and workers as more flexible-workplace arrangements become permanent and communities adjust to them; and
  • produce technology enhancements in virtual and augmented reality and AI that allow people to live smarter, safer and more productive lives, enabled in many cases by “smart systems” in such key areas as health care, education and community living.”

Now, what do these changes and impacts portend for the courts?  It seems likely to me that worsening economic inequality, erosion of privacy, and spread of disinformation will lead to increased litigation in many case types, such as criminal, housing/tenant, and civil rights.  There will also be an erosion of trust in the courts and judges as disinformation campaigns damage the public’s support for the Rule of Law (along with government in general).  As we have seen over the past year, economic disruption will also endanger government budgets, including the courts.

These impacts may be offset, however, by the positive changes cited in the PEW report.  For instance, racial justice and social equity reforms should increase public support for the Rule of Law.  The rise of more flexible-workplaces and quality of life, along with advances in health care and education, may improve the economy and decrease economic inequality, thereby decreasing caseload and budget problems.  But the biggest positive impact in the courts should be in the wide range of technology enhancements that have the potential to greatly improve court processes (and litigation in general).  As cited in my 2021 technology trends blog post (Technology Trends for 2021 – Court Leader), the deployment of AI-enabled smart, user-oriented systems like access portals that enable the public and court users to use a wide range of services (such as online dispute resolution/ODR) are becoming more widely available.  Courts will internally develop and adopt similar smart systems to enhance the processing and management of cases.  For example, these systems will enable more efficient calendaring practices and data-driven decision making.  All of these internally and externally-oriented systems will positively impact access to justice and court accountability, and overall, the enhancement of the Rule of Law.  Finally, a less obvious impact on the courts is in the design and use of court facilities.  As the world moves to remote access and participation in both staff work and user services, so will the courts.  Our courthouses will necessarily be updated to reflect these changes by reconfiguring and eliminating spaces.

Taken together, the PEW findings and the technology trends discussed in the last Vantage Point blog post predict a challenging future for the courts.  The past year has already seen huge changes in court operations, and this will continue for many years to come.  Courts that proactively use this information to update their strategic plans to guide their actions will be at the vanguard of the “new normal” that is already coming.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the “comments” field below.

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