One of my family’s often-repeated fables is how my great grandfather didn’t believe the moon landing was real. People of his generation witnessed the invention of the automobile, the television and now space travel. For some, it was too much to comprehend, and the response was to deny it was happening. Pre internet, that was a simpler task.
The psychological harm associated with technological change, particularly the exponential change we are experiencing, is well documented. Numerous articles have been written on why people feel overwhelmed by technological change and the effects of technostress, the inability to cope with new computer technologies. For more information on those topics, see articles such as “Why Does Technology Seem so Overwhelming” and “Technostress Dark Side of Technology in the Workplace: A Scientometric Analysis”[i].
In the information age, it’s difficult if not impossible to turn off the ChatGPT and generative AI ‘noise’. We are facing exponential change and are firmly entrenched in a Promethean moment as Thomas L. Friedman explains in the New York Times Article, “Our New Promethean Moment”:
This is a Promethean moment we’ve entered — one of those moments in history when certain new tools, ways of thinking or energy sources are introduced that are such a departure and advance on what existed before that you can’t just change one thing, you have to change everything. That is, how you create, how you compete, how you collaborate, how you work, how you learn, how you govern and, yes, how you cheat, commit crimes and fight wars.
Scary times for some, invigorating times for others. My response to both my fear and invigoration has been to try to keep up with the continual flood of articles and presentations explaining what we are dealing with and predicting what the future holds. Will AI revolutionize how we practice law or replace us entirely? I’ll admit that my anxiety is not necessarily centered on the end of days predictions but the information overload I’m experiencing.
Information overload is defined in the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology as:
The state that occurs when the amount or intensity of information exceeds the individual’s processing capacity, leading to anxiety, poor decision making, and other undesirable consequences.
As noted in the article, “How to Combat Information Overload in the 21st Century”, the most common causes of information overload include:
- Massive amount of information available;
- Numerous ways to consume information; and
- Challenging to determine credible information.
How do we deal with the bombardment of information explaining AI’s capabilities and forecasting its impact on the world and how we operate in it? Unlike my great grandfather, we may not have the option to ignore the changes we’re facing, particularly for those in the legal profession. I’ve done research into how to lessen my information overload and share a few practical tips from the article above to help:
- Consume Information with a Goal: this means being deliberate about the type and purpose of the information you engage with. Set specific goals for what you want to learn or achieve, and then focus on material that supports those goals. For example, as a lawyer focus on how you can use AI to improve your practice and better understand your professional responsibility.
As noted by Julie Sobowale in the recent CBA National article How AI can transform the solo practice, “there are no rules prohibiting lawyers from using generative AI”. However, the article provides some guidance on how to navigate this new world and use AI to improve your practice.
At the ‘AI, ChatGPT & Legal Services: Today, Tomorrow and the Days After’ conference held on May 15, 2023, Amy Salyzyn addressed the ethical obligations and regulatory aspects of using these tools. If you weren’t lucky enough to attend, a summary of the presentation was provided by Amanda Jerome, Law360Canada: ‘Law Societies have ‘important role’ in addressing AI, providing ‘best practices’ conference told’. The recent Slaw article ‘The ChatGPT Lawyer: Promises, Perils, and Practicalities’ also highlights potential ethical issues.
- Regular Brain Dump: this is the process of writing down all the knowledge, ideas and tasks that are occupying your brain. I find this process helpful for identifying my information goals in Tip #1. I write down what I’m worrying about, what information I need to know and what gaps I have.
- Use a Digital Brain: this is a tool to help manage the information more effectively such as note-taking apps and project management tools. While these tools can be useful, I find relying on the wonderful aggregating services provided by legal librarians should be added to the mix. See for example the repository created by the Berkeley Law Library: ChatGPT and Generative AI Tools for information compiled bi-weekly.
- Take Regular Breaks from Information: this means disconnecting from the constant stream of information. This might be the hardest tip to follow. While it may seem we need to be constantly scanning the AI change environment, give your mind a rest.