Column

Peggy’s New Gig

Before Siri and Alexa etc, there was Peggy. Back in the 1990’s, she told users of a pioneering practice management system (PMS) when they had an appointment. I found her most useful when I was distracted on the phone, or otherwise missed a visual reminder on the screen. She just did one task, but did it very well. In an English accent, she simply announced “Sorry to interrupt, but you have an appointment soon”

A more recent woman in my life is Amy Ingram from x.ai. She introduced herself to me about a year ago when I tried to make an phone appointment with her boss. If she hadn’t mentioned that she was “different”, I would not have realised that her chatty efficiency in clarifying who was to ring what number at what time over the course of 5 emails was anything other than a very real, and capable personal assistant.

Amy is billed as “Your AI powered personal assistant for scheduling meetings. You interact with me as you would to any other person – and I’ll do all the tedious email ping pong that comes along with scheduling a meeting.”

Just as a modern calculator is smarter than you at “calculating”, Amy would be more efficient than you at scheduling a meeting. Her efficient intelligence can help you appear to be a better lawyer. By freeing you to concentrate on being a lawyer, you will be a better lawyer.

And you will need to be, to cope with the challenges ahead as we enter the 2nd Industrial Revolution. Some industries such as the finance sector will advance more quickly than others, and you will need to be on the ball to keep up with developments in blockchain and financial chatbots, for example. To get a feeling for what is ahead, watch this 13 minute video by Kevin Kelly.

He points out that:

“… when we take this AI and embody it, we get robots. And robots are going to be bots, they’re going to be doing many of the tasks that we have already done. A job is just a bunch of tasks, so they’re going to redefine our jobs because they’re going to do some of those tasks.”

Despite a flood of new “world firsts” in the legal tech area, the legal world has seen bots in operation before, although they were referred to differently, such as Intelligent Agents/Assistants or Software Agents. In the mid-1990’s what is now known as Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker, was formerly Serengeti Law, and before that as Elf Technologies. ELF stood for Electronic Labor Force. Elf’s intelligent agents did tasks in relation to law firm and corporate legal department matter management and workflows in a Lotus Notes Electronic Working File.

The intelligent agents were accepted by lawyers, particularly as they were “sold” as elves. IT departments were less enamoured with the explanation of one salesperson who delighted in technical descriptions like “ … as the clock strikes midnight, … all the elves wake up, … and start doing their jobs …”.

Cloaking software in a persona helps acceptance. Maybe a problem with driverless cars is the misleading label, and the ambitious role – they are not driverless, and driving should be thought of as a series of tasks whose completion should be allocated to the best qualified “persona”. Maybe if the AI “driver” was given a name, and limited its “license” to certain tasks as would a parking valet, we would see less resistance.

Driving AI is at a level that it can do a better job undertaking some tasks than all but a few humans. Parking would be one example. And long highway trips might be best left to the AI as it will not fall asleep. Nor confuse the accelerator with the brake as my learner-driver neighbour did, with financial consequences. She breezed into Medical School, and will make a great doctor, particularly with an AI guardian angel.

So as with the driverless car debate, don’t get distracted by the AI/robot vs lawyer discussions: think AI + Lawyer. In the future, you could be empowered by dozens of bot assistants, who can not only do a better job than you particularly when you are distracted by more important client work, but they free you up to do a better job of solving client problems. Like your computer, you don’t want your memory consumed by peripheral tasks.

Expect lots of task-focussed assistants like Amy, along with more legally oriented colleagues such as Kim, Lisa, Lexi and Ailira. Artificial Intelligence sounds a bit scary. However, it may as well be called Alien Intelligence. Kevin Kelly points out it will be a different sort of intelligence to yours, as is Amy’s meeting scheduling intelligence. Hence I prefer the term Added Intelligence as it adds to your capabilities, both directly, and indirectly.

Meanwhile your clients, and those who cannot afford legal services, will increasingly be using bots directly. Some could be developed by Josh Browder, the creator of the DoNotPay bot originally designed to challenge unfairly issued parking tickets in the UK and the US. He is launching a drag-and-drop builder by February 2017 that will allow anyone to develop a bot for dealing with a legal issue.

The widespread use of legal knowledge AI/bots for clients and research assistants for lawyers of the type featured in Apple’s1987 Knowledge Navigator video, will be interesting.

“(According to Wikipaedia, this video showed) a tablet style computer with numerous advanced capabilities, including an excellent text-to-speech system with no hint of “computerese”, a gesture based interface resembling the multi-touch interface later used on the iPhone and an equally powerful speech understanding system, allowing the user to converse with the system via an animated “butler” as the software agent.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Navigator)

Today, with the rise of AI such as ROSS, Lexi and Ailira, the Knowledge Navigator seems to becoming a reality. The only “miss” with the video was that the smart phone has supplanted the home phone.

Meanwhile, Peggy, who was a casualty of the GFC, went to Law School. She was possibly inspired by Australia’s first female High Court Chief Justice who also began her working life as a legal secretary. I understand that Peggy is joining a new AI-focussed PMS initially providing legal process and research support as a freelancer for a number of innovative firms.

Start the discussion!

Leave a Reply

(Your email address will not be published or distributed)