Dan Anderson was my best friend growing up. He now lives in Burlington, Vt., and is a medical doctor. Two years ago, he decided to leave his practice and go to work for a software company named PKC. I wasn’t surprised. I remember Dan building logic circuits in his basement about the same time Steve Jobs was building the first Apple computers in his parents’ garage.
PKC designs and sells medical decision support software. The PKC system consists of two basic components: a knowledge base of medical information developed during many years and continuously expanded, and algorithms that recognize patterns within the knowledge base. When a doctor sees a patient, the system starts off by asking basic questions about the patient’s symptoms, such as, “Where does it hurt?” Based on the answers, the system intelligently comes up with further questions according to relevancy.
When you boil down any profession, it becomes a matter of making informed decisions. We in-house lawyers aren’t that much different from physicians in an HMO. People come to us and present us with problems or business opportunities. We ask questions, identify legal issues and address them. While we don’t write prescriptions, schedule tests or perform surgery, we give advice, create documents and prepare for litigation.
The idea of using artificial intelligence in the practice of law isn’t a new one. Applying artificial intelligence to lawyering can be traced as far back as a 1977 Harvard Law Review article by L. Thorne McCarty entitled “Reflections on Taxman: An Experiment in Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasoning.” Currently, there exists an International Association for Artificial Intelligence and Law. But, according to Dan, the support technologies used by lawyers—mostly e-discovery software and document assembly engines—are the simplest kinds of decision-making technologies and don’t harness the real promise of artificial intelligence.
I predict we will begin to see modest forms of decision support systems make their way into corporate legal departments in the next five to 10 years. Decision support technology will initially be used for responding to everyday requests for legal support, such as handling and disclosing confidential information, managing IP portfolios and complying with policies. The systems will be self-service.
In the future, I see the technology helping lawyers with more complex decision making, such as identifying and analyzing compliance and liability issues in complex transactions and in company systems and operations.