Legal tech: What is software robotics?

Legal tech: What is software robotics?

Matt Blowes September 14, 2017 Legal

Software robotics is building to be the next revolution across the professional services industries. It can be considered the next generation of automation. Its effect on the legal industry may be profound. Since the beginning of the internet era, the legal industry has had increasing access to precedent and commentary via databases. Next, it will have access software robotics which are tools that can hunt down relevant content in minutes and hours, not days and weeks.  

This is the third in our series on new technology that may radically shake up the legal profession.

The third technology is: software robotics

Software robotics is automation developed further by incorporating machine learning.  

Impact Rating: ★★★★★

Software robotics is a rapidly emerging sector of advanced automation. Automated processes "learn" and improve future performance based on rules and previous results. Whenever automation is cast as bringing about massive redundancies across the economy, software robotics could be a substantial driver of this prediction.

The impact of software robotics on the legal profession will be difficult to calculate. However it's likely that many entry level legal positions, paralegal and non-legal positions, particularly those involving significant amount of repetitive processes, could potentially be at risk. 

What is software robotics?

Despite the name, software robotics does not involve physical robots. It is actually software designed to replace human roles in business. Particularly roles involving a heavy amount of manual, repetitive processes. The field is also referred to as robotic process automation (RPA). 

An easy way to understand software robotics, is to consider its stage in the development of automation on the path towards artificial intelligence.

  1. Automation is where hardware or software is programmed to perform certain actions depending on the data it receives. It can conduct unsophisticated processes, removing the need for human input.
  2. Software robotics is where software builds upon automation and learns behaviour over time based on the data it has processed. An example of this is setting up 'Hey Siri' on your Apple device, the machine has learnt to automate your input (it ignores Hey Siri requests from other voices). This is also known as machine learning.
  3. Artificial intelligence goes a step further again. It is where the automated hardware/software is capable of machine learning but it also attempting to mimic human decision-making in its judgments and actions. Ideally, artificial intelligence will be able to automate processes without human assistance even when met with a scenario with no pre-programming. Artificial intelligence will be realised when humans cannot differentiate a piece of software's response compared to a human response (the Turing test). 

The three concepts have an increasing level of complexity. The higher level of complexity, the more theoretical the technology. At least for now.  

Is software robotics making an impact right now?

Yes, we are in the early days but software robotics is making a mark. Ross Intelligence is a U.S. start-up providing firms with a detailed list of precedents based on a set of facts. It uses technology that is partially based on IBM's Watson artificial intelligence (more on that in a later post).

A sceptical partner in a U.S. firm challenged the Ross software to find relevant case law faster than he could on a set of facts. The partner found a near identical case in ten hours; the Ross software found the case almost instantly. It also provided a further list of possibly relevant cases.

Ross Intelligence are working on the next step in their software, a RPA that can not only find precedent, but also provide a brief summary comparing the precedent to the current set of facts. It would be a further example of software robotics, and one blurring the lines between it and artificial intelligence. 

What areas of law could see change as a result of RPA?

Rather than the areas of law that will see change, it will be positions in the legal industry that will be impacted. 

One field that should catch the eye of law students, paralegals and junior associates, is the growing chatbot lawyer trend. Chatbot lawyers can essentially replace the need for an initial one-on-one interview with a client. With simple, direct questions, they are able to build a set of facts based on the client's answers. Some even provide general legal advice and completed legal documents.

Perhaps the best example of this is the DoNotPay legal chatbot, based primarily in the U.S. and U.K. Initially starting as a way to help the public fight parking tickets, it now assists refugees and class action claims

What next for software robotics?

The next stage for automation and software robotics is artificial intelligence. How it will be implemented, the social and economic questions and the moral consequences of AI are boundless. And it's the subject in the next of our legal technology series. 


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