“Today, we look for information. In the future, information will look for us,” says Dr. Ya-Qin Zhang, Ph.D. and president of Baidu, one of China’s largest Internet companies and a leader in global artificial intelligence (AI).
AI systems have generated much speculation and it has many lawyers, including myself, wondering if lawyers could be replaced by robots. Personally, I thought the headlines that say lawyers would be replaced by computers was a bit exaggerated. Take persuasion and negotiation, or formulating legal arguments in court, or assessing the credibitility of a witness for example. I find it hard to believe that a computer could reproduce the cognitive thinking necessary for exercises such as these.
There is support for my perspective on the impact of AI on law: a 2013 Oxford study, The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation [sic]. The authors in the study considered new technologies such as machine learning and robotic advancements in their examination of 702 jobs to determine the likelihood of being replaced by computers. Specific to lawyers, the study drew the following conclusions about AI in the legal field and deemed the field of law to be less likely of computerization:
- Legal writing will be automated but persuading will not (page 4);
- The time required for paralegals and junior lawyer to do their tasks will be reduced with legal research tools that include text and datamining algorithms. Time will also be saved using computers that can review thousands of legal documents and use language analysis to identify legal concepts within the documents; and
- Use of these tools will assist decision makers, like lawyers, to make more accurate and informed decisions.
Fast-forward four years to 2017. Recent articles in the advancements in AI in the legal context has me reconsidering my position. Firstly, there appears to be a rapidly growing area of research and advancements in an area called argument technology that might eventually lead to a computer being able to argue, persuade, and negotiate. Secondly, it appears that scientists were able to design an algorithm so a computer was capable of passing a law bar exam, which is an incredible result.
A recent BBC article indicates a surge in research in argument and persuasion, and asks that if AI could handle the most human of tasks, such as navigating the minefield of subtle nuance, rhetoric, and even emotions, could it take us on in an argument? Until I saw this article, I did not think that we would see machines that could argue. BBC article states that AI could “advance decision-making on everything from how a business should invest its money, to tackling crime and improving public health. Giving evidence is certainly a part of the process, but social rules, legal requirements, emotional sensitivities, and practical restraints all influence how advocates, jury members and judges formulate and express their reasoning.”
Research in argument technology began by thinking about how to model aspects of human arguments, and has been advanced by a rapid increase in the amount of data available to train computers in the art of debate. According to the article, “work is now underway to capture how such exchanges work and turn them into AI algorithms” and leverage “philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and even law and politics in order to get a handle on how debates fit together.”
Though research is still in its infancy, it is far enough along that the BBC is partnering with the Center [sic] of Argument Technology (ARG-Tech) to provide analysis of several debates to be piloted in conjunction with BBC programming. ARG-Tech is in the field of computing at the University of Dundee and at the Institute for Philosophy & Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Researchers are interested in many aspects of argumentation and have a free software tool called OVA, or Online Visualization of Argument that performs argument analysis, which boasts 10,000 users.
Secondly, in a CBC article, Randy Goebel, a Canadian Professor from the University of Alberta, and Japanese researchers partnered together to create an AI algorithm that was capable of passing the Japanese bar exam. If you think about the cognitive thinking that goes into thinking through the questions in the bar exam, then this is really an amazing result. The article then goes on to say the work is progressing and now they are building AI software that “could weigh contradicting legal evidence, rule on cases and predict the outcomes of future trials”.
What is really interesting about the two examples mentioned above is that it demonstrates advancement in AI in the legal context that was just four years ago thought highly unlikely in the Oxford study. Further, it may be that with assistance, we, lawyers, may be able to use AI software to improve the legal arguments we make and the way we present evidence in court or the drafting of a legal document in court. Full AI is still best left to Hollywood, in my opinion. However, today and in the near future, it has the potential to augment legal work and contribute to lawyers making better decisions.