Legal Tech: What is artificial intelligence?

Legal Tech: What is artificial intelligence?

Matt Blowes October 05, 2017 Technology, Legal

Artificial intelligence has the potential to cause a revolution in the legal professional and the economy broadly. But it technically doesn't exist yet. Instead, we see artificial intelligence (AI) "enabled" technology that generally automates processes. More and more of these AI enabled solutions are reaching the legal market everyday.  

This is the fourth in our series on new technology that may radically shake up the legal profession - and our society.

The third technology is: artificial intelligence

Impact Rating: ★★★★☆

Artificial intelligence has the potential to not only change industries and the way we do business, but change the way we live our lives. The impact of artificial intelligence is difficult, if not impossible to predict.  

The truth is that we do not know if or when we will cross the threshold and create an artificial intelligence. That is, an intelligence indistinguishable from a human being's thought process. It's not unreasonable to say true AI could have untold consequences for almost every profession, let alone the legal industry. 

What is artificial intelligence?

TechTarget defines artificial intelligence as: 

"... the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using the rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions), and self-correction."

Understanding artificial intelligence is helped by knowing its current development status. AI can be considered the goal or endpoint of automation and software robotics, as discussed in our last legal technology piece.  

AI may have any number of roles in the legal profession. From researching and critically analysing precedent, conducting electronic discovery to even forming complex legal arguments.

Imagine that before a court appearance, an AI bot was able to search through precedent, the presiding judge's previous rulings and develop an argument uniquely crafted to persuade them. The bot would be a powerful and invaluable tool. 

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence Infographic

See the full The Rise of Artificial Intelligence in Law infographic for further examples of practical AI. 

What is the advantage of artificial intelligence? 

The push toward AI is driven by it's potential efficiency benefits. As with most applications of automation, AI targets reducing the repetitive aspect of a job role. It also is capable of sifting through vast amounts of material at speed.

Avaneesh Marwaha, President of Microsystems, identified four key areas where legal AI is being applied today:

  • review of documents for discoverable or otherwise relevant information, generally referred to as technology-assisted review (TAR)
  • legal research through automated searches of a universe of case law and statutes
  • contract and legal document analysis
  • proofreading, error correction, and document organisation

Each of these areas can take up a significant amount of time, for reasonably repetitive and unchallenging work. Applying AI to these tasks can free up time to take on a greater case load and AI has the potential to reduce the menial workload on legal roles, save time and save money. These potential benefits will likely bring attention from smaller firms, where resources must always be used efficiently.  

Why am I seeing AI in articles more and more?

There are several reasons:

  1. Several of the major tech giants have decided that AI is the next leap in computer innovation. This includes Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.
  2. Artificial intelligence is a recognisable term. 

The push towards creating and integrating artificial intelligence across all aspects of our lives is being firmly driven by technology giants. Microsoft has made AI its number one priority in research & development

Where to? 

The discussion on what artificial intelligence actually is, its potential role in our society and economy, ethics and more, will undoubtedly continue. That's because artificial intelligence is a field that requires us to look internally. It asks us to consider every aspect of what makes us human, and how we all try to live together in a civilisation. It does ask the big questions.

But for now, technology companies, large and small, are pushing the boundaries of AI and developing it one step at a time. Going forward it's likely we'll just see new software tools and new functions for existing software. The big leaps are difficult to foresee.
To keep up with developments and to learn more about AI and the law, we recommend the following as useful sources for staying up to date:

The Conversation - Opinion pieces from academics around the world

Artificial intelligence and automation are coming, so what will we all do for work? Lateline (ABC News) - A feature on AI's impact on the economy

Lawyers Could be replaced by Artificial Intelligence, CNBC - A feature on the potential future of AI and the legal profession 

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