Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More on those pesky robots coming to a legal writing classroom near you

We know that robots are already replacing attorneys (and doing a better job) for routine tasks like document review. Heck, there's even software that will negotiate a divorce settlement better (and certainly cheaper) than lawyers.  Robots can best humans on the game show Jeopardy and perhaps write a better news story than a journalist.

Last week we mentioned a story suggesting that it's not whether robots will also replace professors but only a question of when (and in some parts of the world, they already have).  Here's a follow-up story from the Chronicle of Higher Ed on robots replacing profs:

Robot Writers, Robot Readers?

[C]an algorithms replace students? Professors?

To some extent, they already have. The story of robot reporters parallels with Marc Bousquet’s recent piece, “Robots are grading your papers“. Marc Bousquet points out that the substitution works in standardized situations: “Machines can reproduce human essay-grading so well because human essay-grading practices are already mechanical.” Certainly the essay-grading rubrics of standardized tests leave little room for interpretation. And with robots also writing, I can only wonder how their essays would score by the standards of their fellow machines.

It’s not a comfortable thought, but perhaps the entrance of robots into the fray can be a reminder of why the teaching of writing is so important: Rachel Toor wrote about the importance of deeper feedback (beyond what an automated tool, like the writing feedback in Pages, can do) in the teaching of writing. I plan to show EssayTyper to my freshmen to encourage them to be aware of when they are engaging in writing–and when they’re caught up in cutting and pasting, or taking the backseat to outside sources and automatic filler.

We can thus perhaps be reassured that humans are still the ones reporting on the robot reporters, and students writing those final essays will have to look a little further than an automated writing companion.

Yeah, but for how long?  Only until someone invents a better algorithm? Will we soon see the day when attorneys have robots draft most of their pleadings to be filed in cases that will be decided by a judicial algorithm?  In that event, the trick will be to get the robot to do the work while we humans still collect the paycheck. 

We certainly live in interesting times.


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