Our most recent New York event covered the new topic of "Data & Analytics in the Law" as we look to focus more on adoption and implementation of legal tech in panels and discussions. The evening kicked off with a Darwin Talk on Artificial Intelligence: An Historical Perspective from Dean Sonderegger of Wolters Kluwer.
Can't understand current AI without understanding what has happened to this point. The term artificial intelligence originated in 1956, but it took decades, with many stops and starts, for it to get to something close to what it is today. As processing power increased and data storage costs decrease, AI has become increasingly easier to develop and implement. But the focus of its development has shifted from trying to replicate human behavior to teaching it to identify pattern in large sets of data. And with more data available than ever before, attorneys and firms can apply AI to sift through the data to reduce the amount of time on tasks and to provide better outcomes for clients. To accomplish this, firms are inventing in legal technology that provides AI tools, either with partner companies or in-house. And while the reality doesn't always meet expectations when it comes to the hot new technology, AI and other new tools will have a place in the future of law.
While things like blockchain, AI and smart contracts are rightfully exciting for what they are able to to as far as disaggregation and decentralization, we don't seem to be headed for a world without lawyers. AI is another tool for lawyers to use, and can't replace a lawyer's judgement. AI reduces the mundane tasks and allows attorneys to focus on higher value work. As lawyers become more aware of blockchain, they'll begin to use it for things like smart contracts or other transactions, and eventually gain a greater understanding of the implications of using blockchain, and eventually a competence where blockchain becomes a focus of certain areas of the practice of law.
As clients demand expertise in blockchain, more firms will continue to come on board with the idea of using the program to manage the sale of assets more efficiently and effectively than with other means. And with the spate of cybersecurity attacks and threats that exist, using blockchain in law firms helps avoid a single point of failure and can greatly reduce the risk of security breaches with sensitive data. Even beyond just law, people in every aspect of their life are increasingly asked to put their most sensitive personal information online for different services in websites, only to have it compromised; while blockchain might not be infallible, it offers a decentralized, encrypted solution to help keep that information safer than it is currently, and will continue to grow and develop and improve at an exponential rate.
As blockchain becomes more widely used, issues of security and scale and variety will create issues of greater concern to and increasing number of people. Given the decentralized nature of blockchain, trying to solve for underlying issues can be challenging; implementing fixes will require cooperation on the part of multiple involved parties. And there are real concerns about potential errors and the effects that bad updates might have on things like smart contracts as lawyers have to rely on programmers who know the tech but not the law to implement these programs.
Parsing data in an environment where there has never been more is also a new problem that will face much of the new technology in the era of the internet of things. With so much data comes a variety that can be unwieldy, or even unformatted entirely, that things like AI will have to try and grapple with in order to turn it to something usable for the system. As more and more sensors provide data to these systems, we could see contract terms and performance obligations automated and modified as things change in real time.
Blockchain presents a new and challenging and perhaps intimidating set of possibilities for lawyers moving forward. Concerns about the loss of nuance and ambiguity in contract language, or the general erosion of the knowledge base that might arise with automated document creation are not without validity. But blockchain, AI, smart contracts, and any number of other technological improvements offer lawyers a chance to work more efficiently, and to provide greater data security for their clients, so in the interest of serving their needs, lawyers will slowly begin to learn, adjust and adapt.