Did you see the Sprint Super Bowl ad (click the image), where a scientist gets laughed out of his lab by his impertinent artificially intelligent robots? It was funny, but in that groaning kind of way when humor is just a bit too true. Let’s break down the punchline: “My coworkers” says the scientist, talking about robots, “laughed at me.” He responds to the robotic peer pressure with the human feeling of shame, and changes his cell phone provider to conform.
Wow. Get used to it. It could happen to you. True, the robots’ sense of humor was pretty immature. He chastises them “Guys, it wasn’t that funny.” But they’ll learn — that’s what artificial intelligence does — it learns, really fast. They’ll be doing sarcasm and irony soon — that is, when they’re not busy passing a university entrance exam, managing an investment portfolio, developing business strategy, practicing medicine. practicing law, writing up your news feeds, creating art, composing music … and generally doing all those other things everybody knew all along that robots surely would never be able to do.
Miami lawyer Luis Salazar used to think that way, until he met Ross. This is from a NY Times article from last March:
“Skeptical at first, he tested Ross against himself. After 10 hours of searching online legal databases, he found a case whose facts nearly mirrored the one he was working on. Ross found that case almost instantly.”
Ross is not a human. “He” never went to law school, never took a legal methods class, never learned to do research, never had a professor or partner critique his legal writing. “He” is machine intelligence. Not only did he find the clincher case in a fraction of the time Salazar did, he also did a nice job of writing up a legal memo:
“Mr. Salazar has been particularly impressed by a legal memo service that Ross is developing. Type in a legal question and Ross replies a day later with a few paragraphs summarizing the answer and a two-page explanatory memo.
“The results, he said, are indistinguishable from a memo written by a lawyer. ‘That blew me away,’ Mr. Salazar said. ‘It’s kind of scary. If it gets better, a lot of people could lose their jobs.’”
Yes, scary — especially when you consider the cost of legal research: click here and enter “legal research” in the search field. Among other things, you’ll get an article about Ross and another about the cost of legal research. If Ross is that good, he could save a lot of firms a lot of money… and eliminate a lot of jobs along the way. (The Ross Intelligence website is worth a visit — there’s attorney Salazar on video, and an impressive banner of early adopting law firms, with a lot of names you’ll recognize.)
And speaking of things that were never supposed to happen, the NY Times article cites a McKinsey report that, using technology then available, 23 percent of a lawyer’s work could be fully automated. Given the explosion of AI in the past year, we are already way beyond that percentage.
How are you going to compete with that? You’re not. Consider this story from a source we’ve visited several times already (the book Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland):
“In 2010, DLA Piper faced a court-imposed deadline of searching through 570,000 documents in one week. The firm… hired Clearwell, a Silicon Valley e-discovery company. Clearwell software did the job in two days. DLA Piper lawyers spent one day going through the results. After three days of work, the firm responded to the judge’s order with 3,070 documents. A decade ago, DLA Piper would have employed thirty associates full-time for six months to do that work.”
Note the date: that happened eight years ago. Today, the whole thing would happen a lot faster, with much less human involvement.
I tried to get a robot to write this blog post, but didn’t succeed. Articoolo,com looked promising: “Stop wasting your time,” its website trumpets, “let us do the writing for you!” The company is obviously fully in tune with the freelance job market we’ve been talking about: “You no longer have to wait for someone on the other side of the world to write, proofread and send the content to you.” I tried a few topic entries, but the best it could do was to admit it had written an article but it wasn’t up to standards, so sorry… But then, it’s only available in beta. Give it time to learn.
I also sent an inquiry to the people at Ross Intelligence, asking if Ross could write an article about itself. I never heard back — he’s probably too busy signing up more firms to hire him.
More on robots and artificial intelligence next time.