May 162016
 

Watson

Recently many “experts” have been predicting that the first salvo fired in the robot revolution will be when they begin stealing jobs from humans. The Telegraph even reported back in February that within 30 years robots will have taken over most jobs leading to unemployment rates of over 50%. Last week, the bots fired the metaphorical first shot over humanity’s bow when it was announced that law firm Baker & Hostetler had hired ROSS, the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney.  While prognosticators, pundits, and Luddites alike all agreed that this was evidence of an impending sea-change coming to the job market, auto workers everywhere just shook their heads and welcomed the soon to be displaced to the world they’ve been living in since the 1960s.

Built on IBM’s natural language processing and understanding cognitive system, Watson, ROSS is able to read through millions of unstructured legal documents a second in order to answer questions posed to it. What makes ROSS stand apart from other software systems currently in use at legal firms, is his ability to derive meaning and intent from the natural language questions users ask him. Even systems that would have been considered state of the art before ROSS are not much more than glorified search engines, relying on keyword matching which often leads to many irrelevant citations being returned.

Another unique characteristic of ROSS is that he can actually fill an ongoing, proactive role during the course of a case. By monitoring for new legal developments, ROSS is able to alert his collaborating attorneys of new court decisions or other issues that may affect current litigation. ROSS is a hybrid supervised/unsupervised learning system that is able to optimize his performance using feedback from his users.

Bob Craig, CIO at Baker & Hostetler, explains their decision to deploy ROSS, “.. we believe that emerging technologies like cognitive computing and other forms of machine learning can help enhance the services we deliver to our clients.”

While I am as excited as anyone in the ai community about this development, I can’t help but think back to that old saying about robots taking jobs:

First they came for the auto worker jobs, and I did not speak out
Because I was not an auto worker.

Then they came for the Jeopardy contestant positions, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jeopardy contestant.

Then they came for the lawyers, and I did not speak out
Because – lawyers. Screw lawyers.

I am pretty sure that’s how it went anyway.

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