March 29, 2019

The Law of Artificial Intelligence and Smart Machines

In 2019, what could attorneys and law professors know about artificial intelligence that would be worth reading? Right now, AI is a technical problem, not a social problem. Developers are still trying new flavors of supervised learning, data crunching and neural networks. Even Google, Apple and Facebook don’t know how artificial intelligence will be used to transform their businesses. Most companies and government entities have not even considered AI as a management tool.

AI is still the realm of science fiction rather than science fact – more real on movie screens than in companies and courthouses. Real-life general artificial intelligence, the kind that chats reassuringly with the hoi polloi and makes rational decisions on policy problems, doesn’t exist right now. We don’t even have a solid idea how such intelligence might behave or whether its existence would be helpful or harmful to humanity. What’s more, this is a technical problem to be solved – if ever – with creative programing skills and more sophisticated mathematics. So what can lawyers know about it and why should we care about their insights?

As exhibited in the chapters of the ABA BLS book The Law of Artificial Intelligence and Smart Machines, lawyers have training and specialized thinking that can be useful in any stage of a technology’s development. The attorney’s need for linguistic precision leads to a talent for defining terms and concepts. This talent is particularly useful in early days of complex technical matters. Most people today do not understand AI, and particularly not its various directions and its constituent parts. Lawyers can help. Also, attorneys, by definition, spot the places where legal conflicts are likely to occur. As a technology develops, the law reacts, and law professors are employed to predict those schisms and how they might be resolved. Third, lawyers spot and mitigate risks. Artificial intelligence will seep into every aspect of human endeavor and decision making, and lawyers are trained to see the realistic risks ahead of time and to chart paths to minimize their impacts. Anyone can make panicked predictions about the singularity and AI’s ascendance into Earth’s dominant life form, but lawyers have unique talent for discussing societal risks likely to emerge in the next two decades, and finding ways to deal with those risks.