Artificial intelligence (AI) is the current buzz concept. Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022 more than 100 million people have logged on to it. It has been by far the fastest take up of any technology in history.
Initial positive responses to AI focussed on enhanced access to information and a consequential increase in productivity. Negative concerns are now emerging as AI is beginning to be utilised to do research, write reports and even delve into the creative world of song writing and poetry. Recently more than 1000 tech leaders (including Elon Musk), researchers and others signed an open letter urging a moratorium on the development of powerful AI tools warning that they present “profound risks to society and humanity”.
Alarmist and arguably an overreaction? In 1970 a best seller by Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) predicted world anxiety upended by rapidly emerging technology. That didn’t happen. Rather the world adapted and importantly positively embraced technology for the last 50 years which will be perceived in the future as the beginning of the technological revolution. In the year 2000 there was worldwide concern that the Y2K bug would shut down the world's computers as they wouldn’t be able to cope with a change from the 20th century to the 21st century. That also didn’t happen.
Looked at without all the hype that surrounds it, AI is no more than an advanced and powerful knowledge gathering tool. It will be embraced by the world in the same way that other technological advances have been. AI will mean that gathering information will be able to be done far more efficiently than manually trolling the internet. AI will develop to enable it to collate information in response to a specific request (such as a research note or speech). But at the end of the day as its name makes clear, its “intelligence” is artificial.
A lawyer does more than just work in a factory of words from wherever those words are sourced. The lawyer’s skill set requires not only knowledge of the law but equally (and arguably more importantly) the ability to apply judgement and imagination creatively to a specific situation to achieve the best result for the client. Judgement and imagination can’t be sourced on the internet no matter how developed AI becomes.
Like everyone else, lawyers will embrace AI to collate information however they will need to consider the relevance and accuracy of the AI generated “knowledge” with caution. Not everything AI produces will be correct or relevant. On one view AI may become counterproductive for lawyers. The time saved in collating the relevant information will need to be utilised to review what is produced for accuracy and relevance.
Commenting on Chat GPT being able to “write” a song the well-known Australian musician Nick Cave noted that “algorithms don’t have feelings”. Algorithms also don’t have the years of experience that lawyers have that allows them to imaginatively apply knowledge from wherever sourced to achieve the best outcome for their client.