REUTERS | Sukree Sukplang

AI in law: the state of play

This week, a colleague shared with me a new white paper entitled Artificial Intelligence in Law: The State of Play 2016 by Michael Mills of Neota Logic. The paper looks at how artificial intelligence (AI) is being implemented right now in areas such as legal research, compliance, contract analysis, case prediction, and document automation.

It has been two years since Robert Webber, then GC of IBM, travelled to San Jose to watch a demonstration of the Watson Debater and concluded that Watson could “pass a multistate bar exam without a second thought”.

Two years is a long time in tech. Machine processing is fuelled by Moore’s law, the 50-year old empirical rule that computer processor speeds double every 18 to 24 months, driving ever faster development in the sector. It seems likely that AI will become everyday reality very soon indeed. Virtual reality cinemas have already opened in Amsterdam and Berlin, and Google is advertising for manufacturing experts in California, in connection with the Google X car project.

According to Richard Kemp of Kemp IT Law, this has been made possible not just by advances in machine processing, but also advances in machine learning, perception and control, which have together set the stage for the rapid development of AI.

Sure enough, the white paper reports on the first legal research application of Watson AI technology, by Ross Intelligence, which is due to come to market shortly (although no date has been announced for commercial release). ROSS applies the technology to legal research on bankruptcy topics, inviting users to evaluate search results and feedback into the system, recommending an answer in much the same way Amazon might recommend PD James if you liked Agatha Christie.

It has a natural language user interface, meaning users can interrogate it in plain English and it learns from the feedback it receives, so that the next time it is asked the same question its response is improved.

AI has huge implications not just for legal research but across a wide range of areas that affect the business of law. Mills’ white paper provides a timely summary of where we are now on all the key frontiers of development, as well as offering an optimistic vision of the future. Mills argues that only AI can deliver the ever-greater demand for cheaper, faster, better legal services. He concludes:

“Note that cheaper is only one of the three words. Faster is important – companies measure cycle time, time to market, and other indicia of speed throughout their businesses, and increasingly expect their lawyers to do the same. And better is critical – big companies face ever-growing regulatory and operational complexity, for which traditional legal services on the medieval master craftsman model are simply inadequate.”

And of course, AI will create interesting work of its own. Machine-to-machine communication and decision-making, driverless cars and other autonomous machines raise important issues for the longer term about legal responsibility for the consequences of acts, omissions and decisions made without immediate human intervention. According to Kemp:

“English law has the flexibility and suppleness to respond to these changes, and the legal areas of agency, vicarious liability and negligence and strict- or fault-based liability and perhaps new types of legal person will all be influenced by AI’s development in years ahead.”

Thomson Reuters Legal UK & I Sara Catley

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