Evolutionary Interpretation

Law and Machine Learning


  • Simon Deakin University of Cambridge
  • Christopher Markou University of Cambridge


Legal evolution, precedent, artificial intelligence, machine learning, interpretability


We approach the issue of interpretability in artificial intelligence and law through the lens of evolutionary theory. Evolution is understood as a form of blind or mindless ‘direct fitting’, an iterative process through which a system and its environment are mutually constituted and aligned. The core case is natural selection as described in biology but it is not the only one. Legal reasoning can be understood as a step in the ‘direct fitting’ of law, through a cycle of variation, selection and retention, to its social context. Machine learning, insofar as it relies on error correction through backpropagation, is a version of the same process. It may therefore have value for understanding the long-run dynamics of legal and social change. This is distinct, however, from any use it may have in predicting case outcomes. Legal interpretation in the context of the individual or instant case depends upon the generative power of natural language to extrapolate from existing precedents to novel fact situations. This type of prospective or forward-looking reasoning is unlikely to be well captured by machine learning approaches.

Reply by Masha Medvedeva, University of Groningen.



20 July 2022
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How to Cite

Deakin, Simon, and Christopher Markou. 2022. “Evolutionary Interpretation: Law and Machine Learning”. Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Research in Computational Law 1 (2). https://journalcrcl.org/crcl/article/view/11.