To start 2017 I thought I’d have a quick look at 2016’s favourite Legal IT topic, Artificial Intelligence (AI). Reason for picking this topic is down to two pieces of technology that I brought into our household at the end of last year that utilise AI heavily. Those are Nest and Alexa.
The former has brought home to me what I think is going to be a key issue in adoption of AI in law firms, that is trust. My Nest thermostat “learns” over time and one of the key aspects of this is watching for when you go out of the house, the system then reacts by turning thee heating down. At the same time it triggers my Nest security camera to turn on. Over Christmas though I’ve noticed, on odd occasions, when we were out that the camera would turn on but the thermostat wouldn’t drop the temperature. Other times though it would, there seemed to be no consistency. After a lot of old style IT troubleshooting and a lot of googling, I eventually found that this wasn’t a bug, but that Nest had learnt patterns and our locations and kept the heating on when it thought our trip was local and brief, thus in its mind turning off the heating was less efficient (as otherwise it would need to heat the whole house from scratch on our return). The camera though it realised should be on immediately.
This is my trust point, until I fully understood what was going on I didn’t trust the technology. I thought it was just not working, so I had taken to manually overriding the settings when we went out. In reality it was working very well and actually better at predicting things that would save energy than I was! This issue though will be the same with Legal IT AI, getting the trust will take time and will probably need a full understanding of how the machine is learning before people will accept AI into the mainstream functions.
Alexa to me is voice recognition starting to become useful, moving from the smartphone (Siri) or the computer (Cortana) to being “in the room” makes so much sense and is much more useful. Whether it’s controlling the lights or simply putting on some music it genuinely is useful rather than a gimmick. It is impressive how Alexa is using all the data it is gathering to improve, however it also shows how far AI has to go in terms of human interaction. It is way beyond having to specifically phrase your commands or questions, but there is so far to go to get beyond a few “skills” it has now.
These two areas fuel my scepticism around AI. No that’s not fair, it’s not scepticism it’s just wanting an injection of reality into AI within Legal. I am impressed with Alexa and Nest and the more I use them the more I get impressed by the learning, however my expectations for the technology (particularly for Alexa) were not overoptimistic. I think if we adopt a realistic approach for AI in Legal in 2017 then it can and will be a great enabling technology for firms. If we don’t temper the hype though, we’ll be disappointed or fail to trust it and it’ll go in the bin for years before we try it again!