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Artificial Intelligence Technology and the Law: What You Need to Know

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Hey, Siri, what should I focus on in law school? Surely, Siri can point you to a solid list of articles about law degrees, but it’s just a matter of time before she’ll be able to personalize your entire career path. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is becoming an increasingly pervasive part of our everyday lives and getting smarter as time goes on. We see it in our phones through virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, predictive text, and autocorrect. And as you’re planning your path to a just-right career in law, expertise around AI is definitely territory you want to look into. 

What is artificial intelligence technology?

So, what exactly is AI? It’s not quite the sci-fi vision of robots taking over the human race (probably for the best), but it’s still pretty interesting. Generally, AI refers to machine-learning software or products that can simplify processes that otherwise require manual input from humans. It learns from data and repetitive behaviors and uses that information to predict or take particular actions. 

For example, virtual assistants respond to voice commands to provide information like weather updates. Self-driving cars use cameras to respond to external stimuli to navigate roads and traffic situations. In these cases, the AI software has learned from the previous data it has been provided and is responding to particular external cues (like the sound of your voice wanting an update on that rain cloud).

How is artificial intelligence technology evolving?

AI is constantly evolving – mainly because it’s designed to constantly adapt and ‘learn’ as it gathers more information. If we think back to the very first computers, it’s astonishing to realize just how far artificial intelligence has come. Scientists are currently working on AI programs that could be designed with zero human input, with the ultimate goal of building machine learning technology that would create concepts that human researchers may not even know of yet.

Alexa, call my lawyer! The rapid evolution of AI has created a lot of legal issues — and plenty of work for attorneys (lucky us)! These are some, but definitely not all, of the emerging issues: 

1. Bias and Discrimination

There’s an old saying about computers: “You only get out what you put in.” Even though AI today is way more sophisticated than the first computers, that saying still rings true. Just like humans, AI is capable of bias.

For example, facial recognition technology relies on AI to identify potential criminal suspects. However, there have been cases where facial recognition technology has incorrectly identified a suspect. In fact, facial recognition software is typically better at identifying faces that are white and male than other races and genders. One study found that on average, facial recognition software had the poorest accuracy in correctly identifying Black females between the ages of 18 and 30. 

Some studies suggest that there is an inherent bias in the technology, or, more specifically, in the imperfect human training of the algorithm it uses. For the AI software to know how to respond, humans teach the algorithm what the correct response is in the first place. And let’s say the people who train the algorithm have poor accuracy in identifying Black females between the ages of 18 and 30. They would then be effectively training the algorithm to do the same. Obviously, this creates all sorts of bias and discrimination issues that must be avoided. 

How you can make a difference: Lawyers can help by ensuring that companies’ algorithm training processes are not biased or likely to create unfavorable outcomes. A pretty important role, especially when it comes to human rights.

2. Contract Law

Continuing with the example of facial recognition software, imagine that the FBI is using the technology to track down suspects of a major crime. The software incorrectly identifies a suspect, who gets arrested and is held for three days before the FBI finally works out that they have the wrong person. Imagine that person is then fired from their job for not turning up and, as a result, sues the FBI for financial loss. 

How you can make a difference: Who’s legally responsible here? The FBI? Or the company that provided the AI technology? This type of situation is an attorney’s contract review dream. 

3. Data Privacy

It’s probably unsurprising to hear that data privacy is a huge issue with AI. AI needs a ton of data to function, which means companies need to collect it. Continuing with the theme of facial recognition technology, let’s say that a retail store uses the technology to recognize repeat customers so that they can provide them with the ‘VIP’ treatment. That’s all well and good, but can customers be sure that the store is only using it for that purpose? What’s stopping the store from selling that data to other stores to, for example, provide data on the kinds of goods customers like them are likely to buy? 

How you can make a difference: While there are laws in place to protect consumers and their data, attorneys play a significant role in advising and ensuring companies adhere to these laws. 

4. Deepfakes and Data Manipulation

In case you’ve been living under a rock, deepfakes are everywhere, and it’s pretty terrifying. The term refers to an AI technique called ‘deep learning’ that creates images or video footage. Most commonly, deepfakes are used to create fake videos of celebrities or politicians (remember Nancy Pelosi?). Unfortunately, the technology is getting so good that it’s becoming hard to tell the difference between the deepfake and the real footage. 

Obviously, this kind of manipulation presents all kinds of problems, from defamation to even potential abuses of human rights. Other issues that can arise include questions around intellectual property. For example, if a deepfake is created, who should own the copyright attached to that image or video — the creator or the subject?

How you can make a difference: At the moment, there are few protections around data manipulation as the technology continues to evolve rapidly. Technology is being created to detect deepfakes; however, we are yet to see any laws that really deal with the legal issues surrounding deepfakes. This is an incredible, and frankly quite critical, area of law for attorneys to explore.

There’s not only legal work within the space of AI but also legal work as a form of AI. Let’s face it, the legal field isn’t known for its efficiency or wild innovation. This lack of efficiency has actually led to a major push to apply AI within the areas of law that are incredibly manual for attorneys. 

Examples of this legal technology include: 

  • Due diligence software: Corporate attorneys (especially M&A attorneys) can save time through automated software that helps them work through the deluge of documents faster, so they can instead focus on the specifics of the deal their clients are entering into.
  • Automated contracts: Many law firms use hundreds (sometimes thousands) of templates for significant transactional contracts (such as agreements for the purchase of a company). Software has been developed to auto-populate these templates for each individual deal, freeing up time for the lawyers to negotiate the finer points of the deal.

Document review software: The lifeline to the tortured litigation attorney is buried under hundreds of thousands of discovery documents. What was once an incredibly manual process now has AI tools designed to identify whether or not a document is considered relevant to a particular issue and find similar documents that would also be deemed relevant. Game. Changer.