Say Hello to Watson

  • February 01, 2015
  • David J. Bilinsky

Here’s to me, I finally passed the Bar…

– Music and Lyrics by M. Peterson, M. Puryear, B. Brock and recorded by: Michael Peterson.

Joe Public had a problem. He was off to court in a week and he needed to learn what arguments he should advance to persuade the judge in his favour.

He contemplated heading to a lawyer’s office but instead he signed onto the website IBMLaw.com. A few minutes later he was answering questions put to him by the software. Shortly thereafter he printed up the arguments that had been produced for him by the website and whistled to himself, as he was now prepared for court, armed not only with the arguments he would be advancing but also the ones that he could expect to be advanced against him – with prepared responses.

Sound farfetched? Science fiction? Contemplate this: In June of 2014 Robert Weber, the senior vice president and general counsel of International Business Machines Corp. went to San Jose, California to watch a demonstration of the Watson Debater, according to The American Lawyer.

Weber watched Watson debate whether watching violent video games predisposes young males to be more aggressive. It didn’t just come up with answers to questions as an earlier version did winning on Jeopardy. Now it synthesized information to develop arguments on different sides of an issue.

Indeed, if you go to IBM.com you will find: “Watson is everywhere. Watson has been learning the language of professions and is trained by experts to work across many different industries.”.

Backed by the IBM Watson Group, 2000 employees and $1 billion in funding, Watson is but one of a growing number of ventures seeking to change the delivery of legal services.

IBM says: “Meet IBM Watson, a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances and scales human expertise.”

Many people believe that lawyers cannot be replaced by machines as the type of thinking that we do is different from computer algorithms.

Think again.

IBM’s Watson employs a different type of programming called cognitive processing. Cognitive processing uses natural language and processes unstructured data just like we do. It reads and interprets a sentence as a person does and understands context. It understands legal terms, syntax and more. It collects the knowledge required to have literacy in a professional domain to build a body of knowledge. It curates the data, discarding out-dated information and concepts. As new information is published, it updates its knowledge. It can quickly provide responses to questions about highly complex situations in areas such as law and medicine and provide recommendations backed by evidence, and can find new insights into the problem (per IBM.com).

Science fiction? According to IBM, Watson is “discovering and offering answers and finding patterns we had not known existed, faster than any person or group of people ever could... in ways that make a material difference – every day. Most important of all, Watson learns, adapts and keeps getting smarter.”

The American Lawyers reports:

“In talking about Watson, Weber at times sounds like a proud parent bragging about his gifted child’s potential. ‘I think Watson could pass a multistate Bar exam without a second thought,’ he says.”

I wonder who will hold the party when Watson passes the Bar?


The views expressed herein are strictly those of David Bilinsky and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.

David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia.

Email: daveb@lsbc.org
Blog: thoughtfullaw.com