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Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term which is commonly bandied about in legal technology circles. But what exactly does AI mean today - and do lawyers need to be concerned about being replaced by ones and zeroes any time soon?
Anyone who grew up in the 90s will remember the manifestation of artificial intelligence portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the form of a rather well built android sent from the future (2029 to be precise) to fight baddies or goodies (depending on whether it was the original Terminator or the sequel). Although that future date is creeping up on us, today’s robots can barely manage to climb stairs.
On the other hand, AI is already working in law firms. But it’s not yet doing any of the core work of lawyers. What we consider AI today is essentially a combination of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) which can help to automate various routine tasks. In particular, it can analyse large volumes of data to identify pertinent information, spot discrepancies or find patterns, all of which would normally take much longer if done manually. Some of the main features of AI include:
AI is often very clever by the standards of computer programs. But it is important to state that the concept of a truly ‘intelligent’ artificial entity which could pass the Turing test is arguably still decades away.
Certain AI tools are already being used by most lawyers - often without realising it - such as autocorrect or sentence prediction features in word processing and email products. But some AI functionality is only available to a small number of firms with the resources to test out the latest technology. Here are a few examples of artificial intelligence which is specific to the legal sector:
So lawyers can already make use of many AI tools to help them do their job more efficiently. Artificial intelligence is arguably making certain roles within law firms redundant - primarily those involving routine tasks which can be automated. But, for now at least, the prospect of the autonomous robo-lawyer is still firmly within the realm of science fiction.
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