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Artificial intelligence to radically transform the role of lawyers

"We are facing greater disruption and transformation in the next two decades than we have had in the past century," says Richard Susskind

23 October 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will result in a steady decline in market demand for human professionals in the long term.

That's according to Richard Susskind OBE and Daniel Susskind, who held a panel discussion at UCL in London last night on the impact of AI and the internet on the professions.

"One of the least likely futures is that nothing is going to change," warned Richard Susskind, a leading management consultant and lecturer.

"We are privileged to live in a time of more rapid and fundamental technological change than society has ever experienced."

He continued: "We are facing greater disruption and transformation in the next two decades than we have had in the past century."

Pointing to the impact of the internet on society over the past two decades, Richard Susskind predicted that, by 2025, technologies which have not yet been created will have transformed the way we work and live.

The key, for him, is for professionals to embrace technology rather than fight it.

"We can bring about remarkable change," he said.

Commenting on the points raised, panellist Lord Justice Briggs said: "I agree that advances in technology are going to revolutionise the professions and I welcome it!"

He noted that the law is "far too complicated", that access to justice is "prohibitively expensive" and that he looks forward to the day in which we have "robot QCs".

A new future for professionals

Questions were raised about the future of the professions in a world in which technology is able to complete legal work to a faster and more accurate standard than humans.

Daniel Susskind, an economics lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford, said there are two schools of thought. The 'pessimists' say that "machines are becoming increasingly capable" and that "there will be less and less work for humans to do".

Meanwhile, the 'optimists' believe that not only is there work today that only humans can do, but also new work will arise in future that only humans can do. Consequently, they believe "humans and machines will work well together," he said.

For Daniel Susskind, both groups are right in different ways, but the way that professionals think about their work needs to fundamentally change.

"We need to think in terms of tasks rather than jobs, to think about the tasks that make up a job," he said.

"There will always be tasks for people, but there will also be a new division of labour. Machines will be more capable at certain tasks and there will be new tasks to do in future, but not all of these will need to be done by people."

He continued: "We find it hard to avoid the conclusion that there will be a steady decline in the need for human professionals in the long run."

Some professionals have argued that their strengths in creativity, empathy and judgement cannot be replaced by machines and that their jobs are therefore secure.

However, Daniel Susskind suggested that a lot of work which is currently done by professionals is process-based and routine.

"When you break professional work down, many tasks are routine and not all require creativity, empathy and judgement," he said. "There is a temptation to think machines can't do these things".

Richard Susskind demonstrated that artificial intelligence is increasingly able to recognise human emotions to a greater degree of accuracy than people and to respond accordingly.

Similarly, machines are becoming increasingly capable of demonstrating judgement by leveraging an encyclopaedic base of knowledge and cognitive-computing analytical tools.

Moral and ethical issues

In time, a greater amount of legal work (including litigation) could be completed by technology with human-interface capabilities.

Eventually, judges could also be replaced by robots, suggested Briggs LJ.

Richard Susskind called for a public debate on the ethical and moral commitments of next-generation AI-enabled machines, including who owns and controls the knowledge and expertise of machines.

"We need to think about what tasks we want to keep for people," he said.

Agreed Briggs LJ: "It's up to us to decide how much responsibility we want to give to machines and which tasks we want to keep for ourselves".

In early October, a Westminster Law School panel debate warned that the law is currently unclear on issues around the moral and legal agency of robots.

They predicted that artificial intelligence will create an industrial revolution for the legal sector.

The views of Richard and Daniel Susskind on the impact of AI on the professions are published in The Future of the Professions.




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