Focus: Don’t fear artificial intelligence: experts

Lawyers may fear or be skeptical of talk around the rise of artificial intelligence and what it might mean for their profession, but experts say it could actually raise the level of work to be done and drive greater social equality.

At a panel discussion held Feb. 2 in New York at the Legaltech conference, experts from ROSS Intelligence, IBM and Littler Mendelson PC discussed the possibilities of AI for the legal profession.

While the panel members agreed AI is an “umbrella” term for various technologies, the difference between artificial intelligence and traditional systems used today is that the ones they are working with today continuously learn for better understanding.

“The way we go about it at Watson is understanding that it reads and understands like a person,” said Brian Kuhn, Watson sales executive with IBM Global Business Services, who meets with law firms and corporate law departments to do workshops and prioritize a starting place for technology adoption.

“After reading potentially millions of different sources, it generates a hypothesis and puts forward a recommendation supported by evidence.

“It then continues to learn — in a law firm it learns in the context of what you do and how you represent your clients, and never stops learning.”

For law firms, broadly speaking, they benefit most from what the technology tools can deliver for knowledge management. Watson can read everything in the KM system and produce recommendations.

Kuhn said it can elevate the performance of younger lawyers up to the level of more senior lawyers, and through learning not only scale expertise but serve clients in a more tailored way.

Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS Intelligence, said that while artificial intelligence has been around for decades, it is in its very early days as an everyday application.

He encouraged the audience of lawyers and technology professionals to “not be scared about it” and educate themselves about the technology and how it can “support us in what we do.”

Arruda worked in a Toronto litigation boutique and with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs before co-founding ROSS.

He is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and University of Toronto.

ROSS Intelligence started in legal research and has been shaving 20 to 30 per cent off research time by implementing its tool. Now it is working on firm KM systems and contract review systems. ROSS can read more than one million pages of case law in a second.

“We’re building out an entire ecosystem of legal AIs with the goal towards a day where you would have a device that you wheel into a room and ask it a question. What is the law regarding this? At this price point, who are the best lawyers to put on the file? It has a dynamic understanding of everything that has been occurring,” Arruda said.

For those who are skeptical, he pointed out that Google, Amazon and IBM Watson are all going “all in” on AI — every major technical giant has said it’s the future. It’s one of the first times in history that is happening.

“Just because AI can mimic tasks we do in law, it doesn’t take away what we do as lawyers,” said Arruda.

“What this technology is meant to do is allow us to specialize in what we do — advocate and advance our clients’ needs.

“We have to stop thinking of it as us versus the machine and, rather, what we can do together.”

He said he is already seeing it make significant breakthroughs in a variety of different tasks.

“A lot of that centres around data retrieval.

“Where we are today is like the Model T of the automobile.

“It is something that can outperform the traditional methods — but we know how these things go — things keep happening that no one would have seen coming,” he said.

Unlike those who predict lawyers will be losing jobs, Arruda said there will be more opportunities for lawyers and, perhaps more importantly, it will provide greater access to justice to those currently shut out of the market due to cost.

“AI systems will do as much as they can.

“The human lawyer doesn’t get removed. In law, because our current system isn’t addressing the full market, there is actually a lot of money out there right now,” he said.

“We also have a duty that those who need access to legal services get it.

So it’s actually a unique situation in law that we haven’t fully penetrated our market to begin with.”

Zev Eigen, global director of analytics at Littler Mendelson, cautioned that AI is not the “panacea” some may think it is and cautioned they don’t need to run to adopt it just because they are afraid.

There are also those, he noted, who are skeptical and think machines are going to replace them.

“It’s somewhere in the middle that is likely the case,” said Eigen.

“The most important part for me is you don’t have to learn to be an engineer, but you do need to learn the difference between using a horse and buggy and using a whip to make the horse go faster and a gas pedal and a steering wheel.

You don’t need to learn how to code; in fact, I think it’s probably a suboptimal use of your time.”

Learning how to be a good consumer of the information generated is also going to be important.

“Be slow, be purposeful in your adoption of technology,” he added. “It’s going to take time to make sure you’re doing it in a wise way.”

Kuhn said the greatest confusion right now is around the term artificial intelligence and is open to interpretation that results in articles that predict robots replacing lawyers.

“Alarmist articles get readers but don’t help lawyers evaluate important, meaningful technology,” he said.

“There is confusion over what AI means and having no precedent for how this is going to turn out is a challenge.”

Natalie Pierce, co-chairwoman of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at Littler Mendelson, said that while she thinks there will be fewer lawyers, to not understand how technology can be used in the legal profession is how lawyers and others in the workforce will be left behind.

She said the world is “unprepared” for what this next wave of technology will do to the future workforce.

She pointed out that when you combine what big data and cognitive computing can do in a 24/7 on-demand economy, you get a very competitive value proposition.

“The biggest problem for us is we don’t have time to adapt and a real need for up-skills training. I’m hopeful maybe AI could be a solution.

“We have eight million unemployed Americans and 4.5 million jobs that go unfilled, so there could be an opportunity to use cognitive computing to make those matches.

“Employers have to look for opportunities so workers don’t get left behind,” she said.

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