A New Era for Lawyers…with Digital Associates

As the senior vice president of IBM’s legal and regulatory affairs, and general counsel, Robert C. Weber is in a position to speak about the legal relevance of IBM’s superstar–Watson, the mega-computer that competed against human ingenuity on a recent episode of Jeopardy.  (Watson easily beat two rivals in a tournament February of this year.) 

The machine–named after the company’s first chief executive, Thomas J. Watson–provided futuristic food-for-thought for Weber, who, in a recent WSJ opinion piece entitled “Why Watson Matters to Lawyers” , imagined a “new kind of legal research system that can gather much of the information [lawyers] need to do their job.” 
With the technology that was used to create Watson (called Deep QA), this sort of digital associate is not far off.  How would that work?  
“The machine [posseses] two kinds of artificial intelligence,” explains Weber.  “It understands questions…and learns and gets better with practice.”  Apparently, this sort of over-the-top computer is capable of answering questions posed in layman’s terms with “speed, accuracy and confidence.”  (Before Watson, humans had never heard the word “confidence” used in connection with a computer.) 
This digital associate would primarily unearth useful information. 
“In my early days in the profession,” explains Weber, “I spent many long nights and weekends devoted to finding data that could be used for discovery in big cases or in a legal brief or litigation.”  Nowadays, however, the amount of information available—from academic essays, news stories, technical documents, YouTube videos and even social media, is almost “unmanageable”, he says, and threatens to overwhelm us. 
The idea is that, with this sort of a digital associate, ala Watson (or Watson’s as-yet-unborn little brother), lawyers would be able to harness the power of all this information.  So, for instance, this Deep QA technology would ostensibly be able to gather facts and identify legal ideas when building arguments. Everything would be loaded into a “vast, self-contained data base” where you’d already have a compilation of your internal and external day-to-day information. 
You’d be able to rely on this pool of knowledge whether you were guarding intellectual property, putting together an airtight contract, or negotiating a merger or acquisition.  It would even come in handy if you were preparing for litigation.  
The author says IBM’s developers are already sure it would do pretty well in a multistate bar exam. 
How, exactly, would you interact with the machine?  “Pose a question and, in milliseconds, Deep QA can analyze hundreds of millions of pages of content and mine them for facts and conclusions.” Pretty amazing, if you think about it, and something to watch for.    For more, go to: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202481662966&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1



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