The Next Legal Era: Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing

by Joseph Raczynski

We are on the cusp of a new era in computer technology.  What could possibly connect rapid automated legal decisions; systematized stack ranked medical diagnosis, and never created scrumptious food recipes?  At the IBM Cloud Innovation Forum in Dana Point CA, Mike Rhodin SVP of IBM Watson connected the three with a provocative overview of what our future in legal entails.


Here is some brief history.  The computer is entering its third era.  In the beginning we focused around the computation of numbers called the Tabulation Era.  Simple calculations ruled this phase.  After decades passed we moved into the use of magnetic tapes and programmed storage of information.  The central piece surrounding this period was programming and so is known as the Programmatic Era.  Currently we find ourselves in this phase but edging into the third known as the Learning Systems Era.


Our current era is in a troubled state.  In 2020 all data available will surpass 40 zettabytes (40 trillion GBs).  The slope on a graph which represents this change from today is nearly straight up.  For comparison, in 2009 the entire World Wide Web was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes which is about one half a zettabyte.  Every electronic act, button pushed, video or picture taken, word written, is a magnification of significant proportion.  However, where data storage multiplies is as we create and store meta data and learned connections from the base data.


Why is data exploding?  When Watson competed against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy, IBM gave it a brain (offline hard drive) of all the information they thought was pertinent to win.  Initially they found it was about 10 gigs of information.  However when the engineers extracted the meta data from the 10 gigs using every algorithm imaginable, the storage ballooned 10 times to 100 gigs.  Lastly they applied other computer assisted cognitive learning against the data and the storage grew by 100 times.  This is one reason the amount of data is exploding as we move toward 2020.  The data we create about data is actually more voluminous than the original data set, and the learning’s from that are even greater.  The volume of data is at a tipping point.  We are nearly at capacity to understand it as humans.


Rhodin says we make decisions through four phases.  We observe, interpret, evaluate and then decide.  Watson now has the ability to tap into this same process.  This was made evident when doctors saw Watson on Jeopardy ranking top answers based on evidence and supporting hypotheses.  These data points can help form decisions.


Expertise matters more than ever before and with the amount of data coming online it is increasingly challenging for any one human in a field such as law to have mastery.  Cognitive computing enhances, accelerates and scales human expertise so that the attorney can wrap their head around the patterns and make intelligent decisions.  The attorney has to be especially aware of this as they are presented with much larger volumes of discovery data than ever conceived.


In a very unique example of Watson’s prowess, it digested all of Bon Appetite's recipes.  The system was trained in underlining chemical combinations thus bringing never tried together favors with very different blends.  It connected the dots on things never created and spit out several recipes.  The food was launched in a food truck at the festival South By Southwest (SXSW).  The truck produced the biggest buzz with lines extending three blocks.  Chef Watson’s cookbook of 100 recipes is coming out in the coming months.


Ultimately what Watson is doing is exploring the whitespace, attempting to connect the dots into what has not been found.  As we are inundated by data, cognitive computing will help experts sift through the data and retain their expertise.  It is clear that this is the future of many industries including the legal sphere.  Watson is in beta trials for medical and life sciences, law enforcement, financial services and legal.