Watson showed, in dramatic form, the capabilities of current computers when it (he?) defeated the two best Jeopardy!.....
Players in the world almost two years ago. If Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns holds, Watson ought to be about twice as efficient as it was then. Further, while the Jeopardy! win was impressive, what happened behind the scenes was more impressive. Watson learned, by reading natural language texts, how to find the answer to a Jeopardy! questions in but a few seconds.
Lawyers, also, use natural language documents to figure out the answers to questions. Just as Watson is being taught to answer questions in the medical and financial contexts, it seems that Watson could likewise help lawyers in the legal context. By scouring cases (helpfully in electronic form already) Watson ought to be able to learn legal theory and discern precedent much as lawyers do already.
When Watson is combined with other software, a truly comprehensive legal system begins to emerge. Lawyers find facts through a process called “discovery.” Among other things, discovery involves asking questions of witnesses, searching through computer systems and hard-copy file systems, and gathering expert opinions. Already e-discovery software exists that can help automate some of this process. Additionally, Watson could record client interviews and distill facts from the recordings. With access to the facts and the legal precedent, Watson could draft a brief through currently existing article writing software. With additional software, Watson can also help with negotiations.
Yet, despite Watson’s capabilities, there are some things for which an A.I. just isn’t suitable. While clients might not balk at a computer listening in to their interview, most are going to want to tell a real human being their troubles. That is – clients are unlikely to want to talk with a computer when seeking legal advice. Yet, it remains true that computers (including Watson, and the internet more generally) greatly assist attorneys, and that they could be of great benefit in these situations.
The answer to this dilemma lies in augmented reality. Through wearable computing like Google Glass, networked A.I. systems like Watson can continue to provide information to attorneys even when those attorneys must put in face-time with clients and others. The union of artificial intelligence and augmented reality makes portable the case-searching capabilities of the artificial intelligence and allows the A.I. to access areas otherwise off-limits to computers. Imagine a lawyer able to bring up a line of precedent in court without having to remember it off the top of his or her head.
Other software programs are able to detect emotion and lies. By combining these programs with A.I. and augmented reality, attorneys interviewing witnesses or the opposition can get a better read on when they are being deceived. The same combination can make an attorney more charming by feeding the attorney facts about the person he or she is talking to, and by detecting the subjects current emotional state and offering hints about how the attorney can bring the subject into a desired emotional state.
The interweaving of computers and professionals is well on its way, and there is little reason to think that the legal field will remain untouched. Attorneys who embrace technology are likely to have an advantage at first, and will remain competitive as more attorneys embrace technology. Eventually, it may be necessary to person one’s job.
John Niman is an Affiliate Scholar, a J.D. Candidate at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His primary legal interests include bioethics and personhood. He blogs about emerging technology and transhumanism at http://boydfuturist.wordpress.com.
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