Many legal professionals currently use artificial intelligence (AI) in their work, although they may not always realize it. Even among the most tech-savvy attorneys, questions remain as to what AI means for the legal profession today – and in the future.
Three of the most common questions include:
- What is the definition of AI and how does it differ from other types of technology?
- How will advances in AI change the way legal professionals work in the future?
And perhaps most importantly:
- How do you know when AI technology can be trusted in the legal space?
In this post, Thomson Reuters Westlaw shares answers to these questions based on the perspectives of our experienced attorney-editors and technology experts.
What does artificial intelligence really mean?
Is AI just a meaningless marketing buzz word? Robots trying to take over the world? Different people in a variety of industries have different concepts of what AI is and what it does. Any useful discussion of AI has to begin with a common understanding of the term.
Erik Lindberg, senior director of Westlaw Product Management at Thomson Reuters, defines AI as “the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model.” For Westlaw developers, that means teaching computers to mimic human behavior and thoughts in order to find the most relevant and accurate results, saving legal professionals time without sacrificing confidence.
One good example is the use of natural language search in Westlaw. Readers who have been using Westlaw technology since the early 1990s may recall when it was necessary to utilize Boolean terms and connectors to get meaningful search results. But then Westlaw implemented natural language search capabilities, allowing the computer to recognize the way humans naturally think and use language.
Introducing natural language technology in Westlaw meant that instead of humans having to think like machines, machines were taught to operate the way humans think. This made searching within Westlaw easier and faster for users.
Another way to define AI is “whatever a computer can’t do today.” When an idea for an AI innovation is new or sounds impossible, then we call it AI. But once it’s commonplace, we consider it just another piece of software – even when it continues to achieve the same simulation of human thought processes that it always did. Think about natural language search: It was a huge technological advance, but today is built into most databases and search tools. We don’t call it “AI” anymore; we simply expect it.
That being said, AI becoming commonplace does not eliminate questions and concerns about how it will affect future opportunities in the legal industry.
What does the future hold for attorneys as AI advances?
A huge topic of analysis and debate across industries is whether, how, or when artificial intelligence may eliminate jobs and displace people. The legal industry is no different.
Read the full article for more on the meaning of AI for legal researchers—including what AI can do for legal professionals, what it can’t do, and how to know when you should trust AI for your legal work.