London Futurists

The Legal Singularity, with Benjamin Alarie

August 23, 2023 London Futurists Season 1 Episode 53
London Futurists
The Legal Singularity, with Benjamin Alarie
Show Notes

The legal profession is rarely accused of being at the cutting edge of technological development. Lawyers may not still use quill pens, but they’re not exactly famous for their IT skills. Nevertheless, the profession has a number of characteristics which make it eminently suited to the deployment of advanced AI systems. Lawyers are deluged by data, and commercial law cases can be highly lucrative.

One man who knows more about this than most is our guest in this episode, Benjamin Alarie, a Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and a successful entrepreneur.

In 2015, Ben co-founded Blue J, a Toronto-based company which uses machine learning to analyze large amounts of data to predict a court's likely verdict in legal cases. Blue J is used by the Department of Justice in Canada and Canada's Revenue Agency.

Ben has just published “The Legal Singularity: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Law Radically Better.” And here at the London Futurists Podcast, we do like a singularity.

Selected follow-ups:

Topics addressed in this episode include:
*) Much of lawyers' work is data-heavy and involves prediction, so it is amenable to radical improvement with AI
*) Other reasons why, in principle, the legal industry should be an early adopter of AI technology
*) Reasons why the world is sometimes slow to adopt an innovation that technology makes possible
*) Automating the processes of disclosure and discovery
*) Two implications of automation for commercial earnings by law firms
*) Selling "the machine service" rather than "the human time"
*) A different kind of prediction: predicting what is likely to happen inside the inscrutable minds of judges
*) Judging as a "full body exercise" - involving the gut, heart, and compassion
*) Two "mountains of information" that legal decisions can nevertheless be reliably predicted in many cases
*) AI algorithms are more scalable, to wider use, than the limited time of expert human QCs (Queen's Counsel lawyers)
*) Even QCs can improve their performance if they take into account the advice of an AI system like Blue J
*) "Human plus machine beats human" - and can beat machine too
*) Once systems like Blue J are more widely used, the proportion of certain types of legal cases that come to trial may decrease; however, the proportion of other types of case coming to trial may increase
*) Entertainment industry workers are on strike in Hollywood, fearing disruption from AI technologies; why aren't lawyers on a similar strike?
*) What kinds of change in the legal profession would merit the term "singularity"?
*) A potential future in which law is a solved problem, with new laws being generated on demand whenever the need arises
*) The creation of laws that are fairer, more efficient, and better all round
*) Potential drawbacks in the run-up to the legal singularity
*) The 2013 movie "The Congress"
*) Estimates for when the Legal Singularity might occur - and for when people will realize that it is coming soon

Audio engineering by Alexander Chace.

Music: Spike Protein, by Koi Discovery, available under CC0 1.0 Public Domain Declaration