A Colossus Come to Judgment: Gio's Expert System on General Damages
Australian Law Journal, Vol. 67, pp. 220-223, 1993
6 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2012
Date Written: November 26, 1992
Can a computer program which knows little about the Motor Accidents Act 1988 (NSW), and nothing of comparable verdicts, be relied upon to determine the assessment of bodily injury claims in New South Wales? Colossus, an ‘expert system’ developed jointly by GIO Australia and Continuum Australia, has that function, and the software has now been exported to overseas insurers. With around 15,000 rules in its knowledge-base, Colossus is one of the world's largest commercial expert systems.
Colossus has been used in all GIO Funds Administration Offices since July 1989, and about 75% of all personal injuries claims are now processed through Colossus. It does not handle claims concerning spinal cord injuries, brain damage or nervous shock.
This article gives a critical explanation of what occurs in a Colossus consultation. The logic of Colossus' approach now has a close parallel in s79(2) of the Motor Accidents Act 1988 (NSW) which provides that ‘The amount of damages to be awarded for non-economic loss [as a consequence of a motor accident] shall be a proportion determined according to the severity of the non-economic loss, of the maximum amount which may be awarded’. Between the poles of ‘a most extreme case’ and ‘no significant impairment’, how Colossus reaches its recommended figure is subject to three broad sets of variables. These are explained.
Before a Colossus assessment is used as the basis for settlement offers, the whole file including the Colossus report is reviewed by an authorised officer, to reduce any dangers of misinterpretation of the facts or inadequate weight being given to very unusual factors. In this sense, the Colossus assessment is used as a guide to the eventual settlement offer, not its final arbiter.
For each assessment it makes, Colossus produces a report of a couple of pages. The report is a comprehensive and structured listing of all of the data that Colossus has been ‘fed’ in order to make its calculations, which should make it easier for both sides to determine whether they are negotiating on a common factual basis. Whether this is adequate is considered.
How do you measure the effectiveness or value of a system like Colossus? Is it meaningful to ask how ‘accurate’ Colossus is? These and other questions are considered in the conclusions. Colossus is just one instance of an important challenge of the information age: how to ensure that computer-based decision-making is fair and non-discriminatory.
Keywords: Australia, insurance, expert system, general damages, economic loss, whiplash, Colossus, personal injuries, litigation
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