Enhancing Old With New

It is timely that Vanderbilt Law School is hosting what is billed as the first legal conference on the topic: “Watson, Esq.: Will Your Next Lawyer Be a Machine.” The legal system, and the legal profession will need to dramatically lift it’s game if it is to keep up with client expectations as mankind prepares to take another big step. It led me back to an abstract of a Rees Morrison article I did almost 30 years ago:

Artificial intelligence and law: A conference report

The First International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law was held in Boston at the end of May 1987. Attendees at the conference included more than 65 academics, at least 22 software or hardware vendor representatives, and 48 visitors from foreign countries.

Systems demonstrated or discussed included:

  • A program for advising on torts.
  • A custom “shell” based on negligence under British law.
  • A system which retrieves applicable rules in the field of noise problems.
  • A model of the UK Emigration Act.

Commercially available inference engines are referred to as “shells.” With a shell, the processing is separate from the knowledge base. It seems that shells designed specifically for legal reasoning will be forthcoming eventually.

In fact, a group of Australian law professors and lecturers involved in the Datalex project have been trying to develop a general legal shell where lawyers can perform as “knowledge engineers.”

Researchers intuitively feel that some conception of the overall structure of the law must be understood for the building of sound legal AI systems. Others believe the thinking processes of lawyers must be mapped; after all lawyers employ deductive reasoning, analogical reasoning, common sense experience, intuition and other forms of cerebration.

Several talks and papers addressed AI techniques for legal data retrieval systems. Artificial intelligence developers recognize that the more work put into a database, the more structure and benefit it offers. A computer can establish a structure.

Conference participants also considered legal “decision support systems”. A decision support system would interface with an expert system to help a lawyer with administrative tasks (interviewing, drafting, billing, scheduling, corresponding) and with substantive legal advice. One example is a UK project aimed at helping those who draft legislation regarding Social Security benefits.

Few commercial legal AI applications exist because there is a short supply of both knowledge engineers — those who can take expertise and fashion an AI knowledge base — and legal experts willing to make available their expertise.

(Rees Morrison; THE LAWYER’S PC; 1 August 1987; pp1-6)

Again, an item that could have been written yesterday. So if they had AI, expert systems, and other “decision support” software then, why is it only becoming fashionable now?

Of course, machine learning and the internet were immature technologies 30 years ago. Insightful Sydney business lawyer and strategist Noric Dilanchian (@noricd) recently wrote a piece called ”Internet of things enhancing old with new”. Noric referred to a Harvard Business Review item titled “How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition.”

The image for his post is taken from that Harvard article. It shows how the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is enhancing the technology of the 12,000 year old industry of farming.


Click to see full size of this image.

Maybe tractors in the hands of farmers could be compared to basic computers in the hands of lawyers? While the tractors themselves are getting smarter and hence more capable, the fact they are a part of an emerging “system of systems” is new. That is the foundation of the “Fourth industrial revolution” a fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds through the “Internet of Everything”.

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before,” according to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. In the same Fairfax Media article on Sydney’s agriculturally focussed innovation hub with its “unlikely alliance” of participants, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel suggests ”The Internet of Things isn’t just a refrigerator connected to the internet. It is deep, it is complex and it is transformational.” But he also warned: “Keep in mind that like new medicines, everything good in technology has the potential for adverse side effects.”

Speaking of the growing need for lawyers, where are the raw materials and other components essential for the greater systematization of law? We are lucky here in Australia that the legal academics from Datalex mentioned above, re-directed their brilliance from AI and expert system tools, to freeing up the Law. That gave us AustLii in the mid 1990’s which now has 700+ free legal databases, and spawned the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM) world-wide.

They recognised that smart lawyers outside academia, and their tools, needed access to content to which they could add value. Providing access to primary legal materials became a priority, particularly when the legal profession, and clients were not ready for AI. Readily accessible legal materials are an important element of connected legal systems that will now flood into the legal world.

Noric Dilanchian noted that in 2016 there’s almost a quarter of a trillion US dollars of corporate investment expecting smart, connected things will create enhanced product and service offerings. It is estimated that “by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected by the internet – many of these benign machine to machine connections.”

Between legal solution components such as self-executing contracts, and automated dispute resolution, the legal system in one form or another, will be wrapped in this new “web” of connectivity, regardless of the state of readiness of the traditional service providers.

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