Alternative Facts and Artificial Intelligence

A few months back, a post here began by asking “Who Put the ‘Artificial’ in Artificial Intelligence?” At the time, I was sort of complaining about low adoption rates for technology tools in legal. I suggested that good marketing and “shiny object syndrome” are responsible for the rise of new technologies in legal. In the end, I question whether it’s appropriate to describe technology tools in the legal business as “artificial intelligence” tools.

Generally, I hardly think of myself as an “I told you so” type of person. If I’m being honest, though, I do think I told you so more than I articulate I told you so. (I like to think I’ve learned something tactful over the years). But an interview on got me to thinking.

IBM Logo Artificial IntelligenceFortune spoke to David Kenny, leader of the Watson Group at IBM. I thought while reading the interview that if anyone has a good grasp of artificial intelligence it’s IBM, right? Well, I have news: the word “artificial” really has no place in the technology tools that are in use in the legal industry—at least not the ones in use in e-discovery.

It’s Elementary My Dear Watson

To distinguish between the many AI terms out there, David Kenny said,

“Deep learning uses more advanced things like convolutional neural networks, which basically means you can look at things more deeply in more layers. Machine learning could work, for example, when it came to reading text. Deep learning was needed when we wanted to read an X-ray. And all of that has led to this concept of artificial intelligence—though at IBM, we tend to say, in many cases, that it’s not artificial as much as it’s augmented. So, it’s a system between machine computing and humans interpreting, and we call those machine-human interactions cognitive systems.”

“As for what we would call unsupervised learning—which is to say, we’re not training it to process but it’s beginning to learn on its own—that is moving more in the direction of what some consider true artificial intelligence, or even AGI: artificial general intelligence. I would say we’re at the early stages of that.”

Explaining how Watson is able to ingest the text of 26 million medical and scientific articles to help doctors find clinical trials for cancer patients, Mr. Kenny said:

“. . . it starts with knowledge extraction: reading documents, finding common phrases, associating those together. It does the same with paragraphs. Then it has to get corrected. The human annotation is critical here: Out of the gate there’s no way that I would trust the system to do unsupervised learning and just find the patterns on its own. You literally tell Watson, “Yes, that meant this, yes those go together. Yes, you have that right, or, no, you don’t.”

“And when you tell the system the “no’s,” it re-weights its algorithms until it gets to a point where it would have produced the correct answer. And it gets better over time.”

True Artificial Intelligence: Who’s Supervising Who

There you have it, folks. That is machine learning, hands down. And it’s precisely how the technology applies in e-discovery. It’s not a stretch, then, to say that what we are currently doing in e-discovery is not artificial intelligence. Additionally, what many now refer to as artificial intelligence is actually machine learning. Or, for the marketing folks out there, augmented intelligence (it’s still “AI” but not quite as sexy, right?)

To call it anything else, I think, is irresponsible and misleading. Lest we forget –and unless I missed something—the TAR, predictive and analytic programs in use in legal are algorithmic tools that require some level of human input. That’s not AI, as Kenny points out, because true AI is not supervised.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because I think it’s not accurate. The reason it is “augmented” and not “artificial” in its application in the legal business is fairly obvious. But in addition, as far as I know, there are no lawyers –none who want to keep their licenses anyway—who are making important decisions, giving advice to clients, or reviewing and producing documents based on true artificial intelligence. No one plugs documents into a computer and spits them out without lawyers being involved (at least I hope not). Seems to me that there’s always a human to some degree augmenting the process.

Now, I’m not a scientist or a linguist. Heck, I barely qualify as a writer. It’s troubling, though, that in an industry in which facts and a search for the truth are paramount too much time and money goes to promoting products and ideas that are, how should I say, “artificial.”

I think it was the first celebrity law enforcement officer, Joe Friday, who said “Just the facts Ma’am.” So, let’s just stick to the facts in e-discovery and try not to promote tools that promise the stars and regrettably fall short. Ultimately, I think doing so will help foster adoption of technology in the legal industry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue, especially those of the scientists out there.