Friday 26 June 2015

I, artificial-intelligence-lawyer

Panic is ensuing. Lawyers are scared. Aren't they always? The same fears the Luddites had during the Industrial Revolution are sweeping many more industries than ours. In one sense, the Luddite mill workers were not incorrect: many lost their jobs, wages did not improve for them, and rich landowners benefited while workers did not. A hundred years later, wages had increased, and the improved efficiency of machines had created jobs no one could imagine existing. The job market grew because of machines, eventually.

Most large commercial aircraft could fly themselves. In fact, most of the time they do. In the age of Twitter, news media very seldom break a story. However, the news has not disappeared, at least not yet. Social media users fall prey to a hundred thousand different scams. The knowledge and skills of the journalist, in providing an authentic and verifiable voice, are indispensable in a world of disinformation.

Do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) legal contracts had been available for years from Horters. Sage Pascal has now entered the same business, with their LegalWrite software platform, offering over one hundred contracts to laymen seeking to avoid a visit to the office of an average lawyer. I went through every one of these contracts in preparation for one of my board exams. As I read through them, I could think of a hundred scenarios where something could go wrong if a lawyer did not in the very least bit read through the final contract with the knowledge of the person's circumstances.

Many lawyers fear that clever AI (that is, artificial intelligence) will replace them as legal advisors, contract drafters, researchers, and as the writers of wills. And yet, for the same reason that large commercial aircraft companies still insist on pilots in their planes, and that news media still exist despite Twitter, artificial intelligence will not take the jobs of lawyers.

Laymen have drafted their own contracts for many years. Much of litigation is thanks to this practice. A nonlegal mind is often unable to adapt a contract to their inevitably very specific circumstances. Even if an artificial intelligence, or pro forma contract could be adapted to every circumstance, people would still require lawyers for the same reason that they require pilots. My suggestion is that artificial intelligence will not take our jobs as lawyers, but that it might automate some of our processes, speeding up our ability to do our jobs. People go to lawyers, because they want to be absolutely certain that their interests, embedded in their contracts, will stand the test of time. Even if machines land up drafting our contracts, legal eyes will still need to read over the contract, and edit it where necessary.

What once took a lawyer six hours, might, within coming decades, take a lawyer six minutes, with the help of a deep learning machine to draft the actual contract. However, the same product would be bought from the lawyer, namely an ability to properly interpret the law, foresee pitfalls, and ensure the quality of the contract, the requested will, or of a memo giving legal advice.

Just as the Internet adage goes, that a product which takes a person fifteen minutes to create, and cost an absolute fortune, is worth a fortune. What is being paid for, is not the fifteen minutes it took to create the product, but the many years of study, skill, and experience required to make the product in fifteen minutes.

What is likely to happen, is that, over time, legal services, with the help of deep learning machines, will reduce radically in cost. This is what happened with the Industrial Revolution, in relation to blue-collar jobs that did not require much thinking. What also happened, is that demand for the products of the machines increased. Every person wanted to own a cotton shirt, several if possible. If anything, the deep learning machine revolution, will allow legal services to be more swiftly and easily provided by expert lawyers. With less effort required by the lawyers providing the services, fees will likely go down. With fees going down, more people will be able to afford legal services, more of the time.

Economics being as they are, the advent of personal computers, meant to reduce the effort and work human beings have to put in, in doing so, increased their workload. If anything, with the aid of deep learning, artificially intelligent machines, lawyers will have more work than they ever have. The deep learning machine industry, furthermore, will impact all other areas of the economy, where human intelligence is currently required. If your architect does not have to draw the plans, but merely go over them to make sure that they are safe and accurate and compliant, more people will be able to employ architects. Intellectual services that once only were available for the elite, could suddenly become available for everyone. If anything, the future holds the potential of more jobs for lawyers, not less. It also holds the potential that what money these lawyers earn will get them further than ever before.

So fear not, my colleagues. The machines are not out to get you. Like a personal computer, and that brilliant invention known as email, they are merely here to increase your workload.

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