It’s true, computers are invading the earth – in fact I no longer use a key to get into my house, and apparently my television is smarter than I am. As mentioned in The Future of Employment, tasks that once required human skill are now being completed by artificial intelligence. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne point out that not only are hard-skill tasks being taken over by computers, but also soft-skill “non-routine” tasks are being completed by technology. Basically, the ability to write legal opinions or to provide medical diagnoses are no longer restricted to human capability.
Though I should probably be celebrating the fact that our society has come far from the days where the invention of the wheel was a huge technological breakthrough – I still cannot seem to muster up enough enthusiasm to be happy about EVERY computerized invention. In fact, I personally believe that we as a society should tread lightly where technology replaces human skill as a main purpose, rather than a byproduct. Sure, Richard Susskind may say that I am experiencing the first stage of denial (of the three stages outlined in chapter 8 of Tomorrow’s Lawyers). At times, this is true. There are days where my denial is unreasonable and I think, “pish posh Mr. Kowalski, the threat of extinction isn’t even real!” However, the days that I choose to be real with myself and try to prepare for the inevitable changes to come in the legal profession, I realize that my denial actually comes from an underlying fear – the fear that a profession that is so heavily based on relationships will one day become a profession full of drones.
If this fear were to become reality, it would completely shatter the very reason that I chose to become a lawyer. My mother was a social worker, and very early on I came to appreciate the satisfaction in helping others resolve their issues and improve their lives. However the key to my mother’s success was her ability to empathize and to not treat her cases systematically. I was drawn to the legal profession because I knew, and still know, that I can make a difference because I genuinely care. However my passion does not come from a tiny computer embedded in my brain, it comes from within – it’s the human element. It is this very human element that drives many great lawyers to put forward the strongest arguments and to do their best work, and it is this very human element that allows clients to trust lawyers with their issues.
John Lanchester puts it best in his article, The Robots Are Coming, where he points out:
“For many years the problem with robots has been that computers are very good at things we find difficult but very bad at things we find easy. They are brilliant at chess but terrible at the cognitive skills we take for granted, one of the most important being something scientists call SLAM, for ‘simultaneous localisation and mapping’: the ability to look at a space and see it and know how to move through it, all simultaneously, and with good recall.”
I believe that “SLAM” is what lawyers do on a daily basis. During my summer articling experience I realized the importance of knowing my audience; understanding the sensitivity that needs to be afforded to clients; and to read social cues of the professionals I worked with in order to do my job well. I definitely do not know the science behind my proposition, but I truly believe that computers are not capable of the above. A computer can be equipped with the best algorithms to exist, but there is nothing like adrenaline and passion when a solicitor closes a tricky transaction or a litigator delivers a difficult argument.
Though I wait with open arms for technology to reduce menial tasks that come with being a lawyer, such as formatting a document or compiling single PDF’s into one file, I am not looking forward to seeing artificial intelligence take over aspects of the legal profession which require passion and drive. We as a society need to be cautious of extinguishing the human element.