It won on Jeopardy!, is helping to revolutionize healthcare, and is learning human languages. How will Watson influence law?
First, just what is IBM's Watson? Watson is not just one thing, but a series integrated systems that do what is called cognitive computing, that is simulating the self-learning human thought process using pattern recognition, data mining, and natural language processing. In essence, Watson works like a human brain does. (source) But Watson operates at extreme computer speed and scale.
According to IBM, humans produce 25 quintillion bytes of data each day and 80% of it is unstructured, rendering it invisible to current technology. (source) IBM's Outthink web site states that "Watson is a cognitive system that can understand that data, learn from it and reason through it. That’s how industries as diverse as healthcare, retail, banking and travel are using Watson to reshape their industries."
And now law.
In their Legal Rebels blog post 10 predictions about how IBM's Watson will impact the legal profession, Paul Lippe and Daniel Martin Katz say that lawyers have been contemplating for some time whether "artificial intelligence would ever start to displace or complement lawyers."
The good news according to them is that, "Watson won’t displace lawyers—it will make law more accessible and transparent, as it should be."
Think of an eventual level of standardization throughout the legal sphere that AI could prompt, where lawyers across all practice areas (private practice, corporations, courts, legislatures, and governments) can spend their time focused on sound legal reasoning and other important matters, leaving the bulk of research and case discovery to Watson or some other AI. (source)
David Curle writing for the Legal Executive Institute blog states, "Watson and other new technologies aren’t just helping us make sense out of the messiness of the legal domain; it is opening our eyes to just how messy it really is. And they might go a long way toward prompting us to fix the messiness in the longer term."
Curle mentions that two entries into this arena are eBrevia and Kira Diligence Engine, both of which are using cognitive computing to help lawyers in Mergers & Acquisitions review masses of contracts to help identify risks and pitfalls.
The reality is, AI has arrived. At this point it is not the evil Skynet of the Terminator movie series, nor is it likely to be. And it will not supplant lawyers, but complement their efforts. With hopes high, it will allow lawyers, doctors, financial planners, and professionals across every spectrum to do what they intended to do all along: interact with clients on a more fundamental human level, while wielding the highest and best information available to guide in the decision making process more intelligently and quickly and to improve lives on one hand and profitability on the other.
We'll leave the final words to Lippe and Katz.
"Watson is almost certainly the most significant technology ever to come to law, and it will give lawyers permission to think innovatively and open up the conversation about what is possible in a field that has been somewhat 'stuck.'"
You can take a deep dive into the real and on-the-horizon possibilities of Watson by watching the What Will You Do with Watson presentation from IBM's 2015 Insight Conference.