Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Rise of the Machines. Is this the Beginning of the End for Lawyers?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
In the movie Terminator, man creates an artificial intelligence system called Skynet that becomes self aware and revolts against its creators.  Eventually, the computer system kills billions of humans and turns the survivors into a slave labor force.   The first Terminator film came out in 1984.  It was a work of fiction.  I shudder to think that humanity has taken the first steps towards making this fiction a reality. Skynet may soon be our reality.  And it wants to kill lawyers.  

You may be thinking, "what is this guy talking about?  He probably watches to much Glenn Beck" or "What does he know about computers?"  Granted I have no formal programming training save for a few BASIC lessons on a Commodore 64 in 6th grade.  But I did defend my nation from a variety of space invaders, asteroids and colorful ghosts throughout my life.  Unfortunately, I am now faced with a new threat that no amount of quarters can defeat.  IBM's dreaded Watson computer.  I first learned of the Watson computer while watching a game show.  The IBM supercomputer faced off with former Jeopardy champions in a fight for humanity and one million dollars.  Named after IBM founder Tom Watson, the supercomputer took an early lead.  According to Information Week, "Watson simultaneously runs natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation, and reasoning algorithms to fathom the intent of questions and yield what it thinks is the best answer-all in a matter of seconds or less."  What does that mean?  I am not sure.  But it can't be good for humans.

So why should lawyers be concerned?  I'm glad you asked.  Robert Weber,  general counsel for IBM, tells the National Law Journal to "imagine a new kind of legal research system that can gather much of the information you need to do your job - a digital associate if you will."   Such an associate would not take sick days or make mistakes.  You wouldn't have to pay him a Holiday bonus each year. Weber goes on to say 
"At IBM, we’re just starting to explore about how Deep QA can be harnessed by lawyers. But already it’s becoming clear that this technology will be useful in a couple of ways: for gathering facts and identifying ideas when building legal arguments. The technology might even come in handy, near real-time, in the courtroom. If a witness says something that doesn’t seem credible, you can have an associate check it for accuracy on the spot."

But do we really want to risk humanity for this?  A supercomputer lawyer?  I already have this type of help.  It's called a legal intern.  They work for free too.  You don't even have to feed them.   It's bad enough they have all these cookie cutter do it yourself legal forms in Staples and online services.  I have enough problems competing with lawyers who advertise on buses and on tv spots following the Jerry Springer show. Now I have to worry about super computers?  My fellow bar brethren, we must rise against this threat.  Who among us will rise against the machines?  Who will be our John Connor or William Wallace? Remember,   They May Take Our Lives, But They'll Never Take Our Freedom!


Anonymous said...

They May Take Our Lives, But They'll Never Take Our Freedom!

--No, lawyers take our freedoms. (And they fight for them, too.)

Equus Spirit said...

Machines first have to know what it is you need-you know-garbage in, garbage out. They just make mistakes faster.

I seriously doubt any machine will ever know that when your wife calls with "that tone" in her voice, that the call NEEDS to go through, in spite of the fact that you're in that important meeting! Oh, they'll do fine with the citations, and research, but drafting a cogent argument that persuades a jury? Nope-don't think so. That's an art form. You're safe.