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AI and the Law: Hype vs Reality

Ian Nolan Ian Nolan 11/11/2016
AI and the Law: Hype vs Reality
Ian Nolan Ian Nolan 11/11/2016

In a previous blog I spoke about the likelihood of a future that included ‘robot lawyers’. Has it arrived already?

According to this recent article about robot judges’ we are already living in the future. Of course, the headline is deliberately provocative – in reality the technology is not really a robot judge, but a prediction engine that has accurately predicted the outcome of almost 600 European Court of Human Rights cases with 80% accuracy. While it’s a little disappointing not to see a Blade Runner-style cyborg presiding over a courtroom – you can’t deny the technology is impressive.

This technology won’t replace the function of a human judge in adjudicating an individual case within a public policy framework, but its impact on the industry is still significant. One potential application is administrative – the engine could assist in the prioritization of cases by removing burdensome and costly research-based tasks.

This is a common story. The initial hype grabs attention, but then leads to dismissal as over-promised science-fiction make-believe.

But the real truth is this: A.I. or Machine learning has once again delivered a clear incremental improvement over an old process. And in doing so, it has added to the canon of thousands of other small changes that are silently and in an unglamorous way changing the way lawyers (and the rest of the world) work.

Think about how video conferencing was the stuff of science fiction 25 years ago. When Skype arrived, it didn’t announce itself with a splash-bang headline and change the business world over night. But little by little by little, Skype changed the way we work and interact fundamentally, and brought immeasurable improvements to way business is done.

AI Augmented Intelligence

Typical Hype Question: Are lawyers and judges about to become unemployed at the hands of chatbots and robots?

Truth: Of course not. Only a very small subsection legal work can be truly automated.

However, ‘augmented intelligence’– i.e. augmenting either a lawyer’s judgement, or helping somebody self-serve themselves with legal services is already here. It is real and already changing things.

DoNotPay, a ‘robot lawyer’ which automates the appeals process for parking tickets is a perfect example of this. Created by a 19 year old law student, DoNotPay has successfully overturned more than 160,000 out of 250,000 parking tickets submitted to the software.

Similar ‘chat bot’ technology has been applied to help users in the UK determine whether they’ve been victims of a crime. By answering a series of questions that LawBot poses, machine learning technology decides and explains what, if any, legislation applies to the particular crime you’ve described.

At Brightflag, our platform reads and understands lawyer narrative time entries. This helps a legal department control their costs, and helps law firms understand their cost base and price work better. It’s using A.I. and Machine Learning to bring real business value and significant changes to the way legal work is done – but we are avoiding the hype machine.

We are living in exciting times with the possibilities of A.I. Because it captures the imagination, we are inclined to overstate the implications and as a result polarize the attitudes to its utility. However, the business impact is real and significant – just maybe not in the dramatic way some people might expect. We have to be careful to separate the truth from the hype.

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