Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ICAIL 2015: Erudition and Old Questions

This year’s meeting of ICAIL (the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence & Law) is off to a good start. There is a productive mix of the deeply knowledgeable old guard of law and AI, together with new faces (myself included) bringing fresh energy and insights. The venue, at the University of San Diego, is lovely, and the organizing work of Kate Atkinson, Ted Sichelman, Anne Gardner and many others is paying off in many ways.  The speakers are presenting carefully framed and executed projects.  Nice, very smart people have made me feel welcome. Why do I feel something is missing?

The emphasis of the majority of the papers is on using AI to help illuminate law as we now practice and administer it.  There are thoughtful presentations on using advanced techniques to analyze legal opinions, both for their logical content and for the data on arguments and holdings which they contain. The science looks excellent; the goal is essentially limited.  In the typology I’ve previously developed, the conversation here is relentlessly linked to legaltech 1.0 and 2.0.  The frame for the application of AI is the current system of law, including traditional dispute resolution structures, judicial opinions, and natural language legislation and regulation. With the impatience of a newcomer, I want more.

While using clever tools to create better searches within the existing paradigm is useful as a current exercise, I long for the folks here to help me think beyond what law is today and into what law can be with the help of AI. Clay Shirky (not at the conference), in his cautionary essay Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags, declares:

“…I want to convince you that a lot of what we think we know about categorization is wrong. In particular, I want to convince you that many of the ways we're attempting to apply categorization to the electronic world are actually a bad fit, because we've adopted habits of mind that are left over from earlier strategies.”

There is a lot of intelligence here at ICAIL seeking fancier boxes for sorting the earlier strategies of existing jurisprudence.

I contrast my reaction here with the energy I feel at events like those organized by CodeX at Stanford – there, we hear from people who are breaking off chunks of the field and simply building it.  The presentations made in the CodeX context don’t always aspire to the intellectual rigor I see here, and many probably couldn’t get published in ICAIL’s scholarly journal, but a vision of the future burns more brightly, and the impact on legal practice is palpable.  Putting that energy and the ICAIL erudition together would be a worthwhile next step in the evolution of legal technology.



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