“ROSS: Your brand new super intelligent attorney” reads the website tagline. Even five years ago, this might have seemed like something from the pages of I, Robot rather than a real service implemented by the likes of Dentons and Latham & Watkins. And yet here we are.
Built on IBM’s Watson technology, ROSS is a powerful research tool, sifting through an entire corpus of law at the rate of 800,000,000 pages a second. It highlights new developments in the law, suggests related readings and, most crucially, answers any questions in natural English. ROSS doesn’t need to be programmed like traditional digital technology – it learns in real time, a cognitive system. Its neuromorphic IBM Watson base has been used in everything from ontological treatment to wine preference calculation, and now it’s gone to law school, thanks to a team at the University of Toronto. Andrew Arruda, one of ROSS’s creators, had this to say:
“We think this is coming to the perfect market at a perfect time. There’s been a huge shift in the legal industry. Lots of law firms are open to changing their processes because there’s more pressure from the client side to become cost-efficient with billing.”
But could ROSS do away with legal researchers, or even lawyers?
A recent Altman Weil survey shows that 47% of the targeted law firm leaders believe such technology could replace paralegals within 5-10 years. First year associates weren’t safe either, with 35% believing them to be ultimately replaceable. So it’s definitely possible. And it would certainly be good news for law firms and their clients if ROSS could cut out the grunt work. Legal research costs countless billable hours, something Richard Susskind blasted firms for in a recent speech at the University of Southampton:- “The law is no more there to provide a living for our lawyers than ill health is there to provide a living for doctors. It’s not the purpose of the law to keep lawyers in business”. And whilst some firms have tried to counteract this by outsourcing to special administrative offices in India or Belfast, ROSS could be a far more efficient solution.
So certainly, ROSS brings a useful addition to the legal arsenal, and we might well see it cutting out those in the research-end of the profession. But lawyers don’t have anything to worry about just yet. Deep content analytics is all well and good, but that is all ROSS has to offer for the time being. The technology is still very much in its infancy, and the human element that makes solicitors such trusted business advisers may never be reproduced. Not artificial intelligence in its truest sense, then, but augmented intelligence, as Kyla Moran of the IBM Watson Group put it at the recent ILTACON 2015 conference.
IBM’s second president, Thomas Watson Jr., once said “Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them.” And that seems to sum ROSS up quite well. As the practice of law finally begins to take steps into the modern world, only time will tell what other exciting advancements lie in store.
Author: Chris Llyod
Course: Law (LLB)