Watson requires huge quantities of text to formulate learnings

In February 2016, the accounting giant KPMG announced that it had been working with IBM Watson, one of the most advanced artificial intelligence technology platforms available.  An article describes Watson briefly:  “It works by using natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights and information from huge quantities of unstructured data.” [emphasis added]   Notably, over a period of a few years Watson has digested hundreds of thousands of medical research papers on cancer and thereafter shown itself capable of matching the diagnoses of experts and suggesting new therapies.  According to the TV show 60 Minutes, eight thousand cancer papers are published every day!

A handful of law firms have announced that they are using Watson’s algorithms.  One firm (Baker & Hostetler), it sounds like to me, has directed Watson to parse thousands of cases, law review articles, and briefs in the bankruptcy area.  Whether that corpus of documents provides enough grist for Watson’s mill, since it is an order of magnitude or two smaller than the oncology set, remains to be seen.

My point is that the vast pools of text necessary for Watson to hone its skills to a proficient level may be rare in the legal industry.  And, related to that point, experienced lawyers may need to devote hours and hours to coding some of the textual material so that Watson can pick out which patterns are most likely to be present in the coded results.

Modest involvement with “AI software” according to ILTA survey

Signs are everywhere that the U.S. legal industry has started to recognize the potential for computer-assisted decision-making.  For example, the 2016 ILTA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey had a question on the topic: “Is your firm currently evaluating (or already utilizing) artificial intelligence technologies, systems or related strategies?”  The web-based survey was distributed to 1,231 ILTA member law firms of whom 14% responded (172 firms).

Only 13% of the respondents answered the AI question favorably, consisting of 2% already utilizing such technologies and 11% “currently evaluating” it. Write-ins cited by them include IBM Watson, Kira Systems, RAVN, Lex Machina and ROSS.  Not surprisingly, “half of the respondents that are currently evaluating AI come from Large Firms”, defined as firms with more than 200 lawyers [They comprised 19% of the total respondents.].

What makes it impossible to assess the actual level of support for AI-software is that “Response percentages are based on total responses per question, not overall survey participation” [emphasis added].  Therefore, we cannot say that 13% of 172 firms responded favorably because the survey report does not state how many firms provided an answer to that particular question.