Siri for the law. We provide cited answers to natural language legal questions.
What they do: ROSS is an A.I. lawyer built on top of Watson, IBM’s cognitive computer, that provides cited legal answers instantly. Ross works much like Siri. With ROSS, lawyers ask a simple question the system sifts through its database of legal documents and spits out an answer paired with a confidence rating. Why it’s a big deal: Legal research is time-consuming and expensive. It erodes law firms’ profits and prices clients of out of services — Law firms spend $9.6 billion on research annually. Up until now the current research databases have relied heavily on the flawed system of keyword search. With Ross it’s as easy as asking a question. Ross has the potential to save both lawyers and clients billions every year. If they succeed, Ross will be the first ever articial intelligence research and indexing software.
Today, ROSS says that the market size for legal research software is about $8.4 billion per year, given the roughly 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S. and Canada.
“There are thousands of laws are being published each day,” said Arruda, who spent several years in legal research. “But until recently, have our computers have had a very superficial understanding of natural language. ROSS pretty much mimics the human process of reading, identifies patterns in text, and provides contextualized answers with snippets from the document in question.”
The core of ROSS’ corpus of data centers on bankruptcy and insolvency law for the moment, but they’re adding case law and other third-party materials. Arruda’s other co-founders Jimoh Ovbiagele, Akash Venkat, Shuai Wang and Pargles Dall’Oglio have backgrounds in neuroscience and computer science.
The service is free for the moment in a private beta, with a number of undisclosed legal clients.
The app is yet another example of the ways machine learning is infiltrating our everyday lives. These days, it’s not just AI algorithms themselves that have improved, but the ability to deliver them across the Internet that has made so many new applications possible. Just this week, a toy startup called Elemental Path started taking preorders for the CogniToy dinosaur bot, which also taps into IBM Watson for its brains. SRI International, the Silicon Valley incubator where Apple’s Siri digital assistant was born, recently announced a voice-recognition add-on for mobile banking apps that lets customers ask questions about their accounts. Ross is another incarnation of the trend.
ROSS returns precise answers to specific legal questions, along with a citation, just like a human researcher would. It also includes its level of confidence in its answer. For now, it is focused on questions about Canadian law, but CEO Andrew Arruda says he plans for ROSS to digest the law around the world.
Since its artificial intelligence is focused narrowly on the law, ROSS’s answers can be a little dry. Asked whether it’s OK for 20 per cent of the directors present at a directors’ meeting to be Canadian, it responds that no, that’s not enough. Under Canadian law, no directors’ meeting may go ahead with less than 25 per cent of the directors present being Canadian. ROSS’s source? The Canada Business Corporations Act, which it scanned and understood in an instant to find the answer.
By eliminating legal drudge work, Arruda says that ROSS’s automation will open up the market for lawyers, reducing the time they need to spend on each case. People who need a lawyer but cannot afford one would suddenly find legal help within their means.
ROSS is built on the back of IBM’s Watson platform. Watson is a cognitive program that “thinks” like a human. Humans have incredible ability to observe, learn, contextualize, and sort through data to reach conclusions. What we don’t have is the ability to plow through billions of pieces of data instantaneously.
Computers, on the other hand, can churn through reams of data, but search algorithms, for the most part, are unsophisticated and require the searcher to tease something mildly useful out of the results.
Watson is being touted as the best of both worlds — a human approach to answering questions, coupled with the ability to search a universe full of data in an instant. The co-founders of ROSS have built a working application that can answer sophisticated legal questions using Watson’s cognitive approach. The application is aimed at practitioners. The goal is to make it quicker and cheaper to do research. The application is still being groomed for public use, but once the application is launched, practitioners will be able to log onto ROSS and ask it a plain language question like, “Are directors liable for a company’s failure to pay employee income tax?”
January 7, 2015
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