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AI Editing Technology in Family Communications

By Mallory Scott 

In their latest end-of-year summary of legal profession developments, LexisNexis reports that 2023 brought significant growth to practice in three novel new areas: generative AI, ESG (environmental, social, and governance matters), and space law. While it is unlikely that an average person will be involved in a space law dispute, generative technology that influences how we communicate and interact on a daily basis already exists and is in the control of every smartphone user.

The idea of wishing for a universal undo button, or the ability to “un-send” an email, is a highly common aspiration. Similarly, how much use would an individual find in a mechanism in place to prevent mistakes or misunderstandings in communications from occurring before they even start? Communication between family members, co-parents, or former partners is already contentious due to the stressful nature and emotional components involved. As a result, the field of family law is full of opportunities for communication providers to experiment with different means to prevent further opportunities from materializing.

Our Family Wizard is one of the most well-known and widely used apps for family communication, especially within contentious family communications. The app recently announced a platform revamp with an improved interface and several new features, including the Tone Meter for co-parent communications. App users can turn on this feature to monitor their tone in sending messages to their co-parent through the app and prevent harmful or combative language from within their messages.

OFW touts this feature as a revolutionary way to self-regulate speech and prevent conflict escalation between co-parents. The intended purpose of this feature is to prevent harmful language from being exchanged between participants, but also to make using neutral and simplified language a habitual practice for app users. An additional benefit is that if inflammatory language does appear within a message, it will be automatically saved and be unable to edit, allowing family court professionals and third parties to use these materials as documentation in family disputes [2]. OFW and similarly family-focused messaging apps are often examined by courts or mediators when communication between co-parents becomes contentious, especially when relating to childcare and other exchanges between households [3].

Tone Meter, and even more widely integrated technologies like AutoCorrect, are undoubtedly helpful tools for creating polished, easily readable messages. Overall, they have protected technology users from an unbelievable number of faux pas, or at the very least, encouraged reading one’s thoughts before they click send [4]. OFW has demonstrated how the platform’s messaging has mitigated family disputes before they occur, saving families from spending money and resources on hashing out these fights in family court. With these technologies in place, individuals participating in parental exchanges can feel safer when communicating with their partners, or at minimum, feel more confident in their ability to oversee their children’s activities.

However, there is an argument that an abundance of these technologies will deprive users of authentic communication. Having an overly edited message as the only means of communication may be a protective measure to prevent children from being involved in parental disputes, but how will this messaging affect the conversations about family relationships between parent and child? Some may argue that if a parent cannot compose a message to another party that is not civilized or coherent, it may reveal greater issues in their general communication. The nature of family law and the conflicts that arise within require extra sensitivity from all participants, so it makes sense that the communication app functions as a third-party mediator. If family law professionals can involve neutral parties in communicating between clients and among themselves, then why should a technology that exists to assist within this specific focus area not be utilized?

There certainly has been enough discussion about the use of AI across professions to cause concern for individuals’ jobs, but what about the impact of this technology on familial connections and relationships? If the use of AI and speech-driven technology becomes prevalent enough to pervade family communications so that they cannot be conducted without them, then the structures of entire families could potentially become strained. Having a job being taken over by an AI or machine learning program is frightening enough, but even more severe is the potential for being unable to communicate with a family member without assistance from one of these programs.

Ultimately, using an app to communicate about childcare matters should be a supplementary measure for promoting good habits between parental figures. It should never be relied on to the point where it becomes a crutch, or communication cannot proceed without assistance from such technology. The proper balance between overly sanitized and combative language includes an appropriate tone and the ability to convey specific details without glossing over important components of a child’s life. The priority in communicating with specialized apps must always be the health and well-being of the children in question, while the technicalities used in discussing them should be a secondary point to consider.

[1] ToneMeter for Co-Parenting Communication | Keep Conversations Clear | OurFamilyWizard

[2] 7 Best Co-Parenting Apps to Download After Divorce (parents.com)

[3] The Fasinatng… Fascinating History of Autocorrect | WIRED

Mallory Scott is a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and law clerk at Woodnick Law PLLC. While working as a clerk during the summer, she has the opportunity to work on real-world litigation, but also research topics of interest relating to the future practice of law. The practice values exploration into collateral topics that relate to families, especially their relevance to popular culture and media.

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