Posted by: johnocunningham | March 16, 2011

IBM’s Watson: Friend or Foe to Lawyers?

For those of you who missed it, an IBM computer named “Watson” (in honor of IBM’s first CEO Thomas Watson) snuffed out two human competitors in a game of Jeopardy in late February 2011, beating them by thousands of points.

At this time, it seems like a bit of historical trivia, but we may well look back on this as a “game-changer” for lawyers and other professionals because Watson displayed the capability of not only responding to questions with unbeatable speed and accuracy, but it showed the capacity to “learn” how the game worked, piling up more and more of an advantage against the best human competitors of all time as the game progressed.

Tomorrow’s clients might well be consulting the legal version of Watson – perhaps named Matlock – for answers to legal questions, utilizing a form of artificial intelligence (“AI”) that has been programmed with all of the statutes, regulations and case-law in existence.

Of course, it might take a good lawyer to frame the right question and frame it in the right way to get a useful answer that fits the client’s situation, but the potential is definitely there.

You can bet that IBM will be working on AI solutions to all kinds of business and professional problems, and law firms will have to figure out how to use AI to the client’s advantage, or else risk being replaced by AI solutions that get adopted in-house.

What is truly amazing about Watson is that it has learned how to analyze a question, sort through seemingly boundless amounts of data instantaneously, and communicate an answer immediately. Talk about RESPONSIVENESS !

In the not too distant future, it will be more important than ever for lawyers to learn how to communicate with AI, use it to their client’s advantage, and then work with AI providers (like IBM) to develop increasingly comprehensive and agile systems that can serve as legal assistants at trial, in the boardroom and at the bargaining table.   

Those on the front edge of the rapidly arching technology curve will own the clients and customers of the future. Those behind it will be irrelevant. 

For a second opinion, check out “Why Watson Matters to Lawyers” by Robert Weber, a Sr. VP at IBM.



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