Could Cognitive Computing “end” the careers of many lawyers in the near future? – Quora

See the Quora answer: Vince Kasten’s answer to Is it true that Watson (AI Software by IBM) will end the careers of many lawyers in the near future? – Quora

There’s a pattern – computers enter a domain where they are capable of increasing productivity, which reduces the demand for humans in that domain who can’t differentiate what they do from what the computer can do.

When computers first saw wide use in the 60s and 70s, people whose jobs included adding up large columns of numbers had to move on to something else. When computers entered factories in the form of robots, people who did things like spot welding on assembly lines had to move on to something else (I did that for 2 college summers at a Ford assembly plant, and I know the job is no longer available for college students needing cash in 2016).

The internet upended the travel agent profession, and taxi owners are finding out in more or less real time of this writing how mobility and smartphones can obsolete an established business model.

Now the next era of computing – cognitive computing – lets computers read natural language, learn domain-specific knowledge, learn how to understand the intent behind a question, and learn how to pull facts from that domain into answers that address that intent. Watson Health has already proven that arcane domain-specific learning like Oncology is well within Watson’s ability. Fintechs like Marstone and Forward Lane are using Watson to provide sophisticated financial advice.

There’s nothing fundamentally different about the law that puts it out of reach, and there are a lot of advantages to a legal “expert” that can read every law review, every court decision, etc., that never forgets, and that supports every answer with all of the evidence culled from its memory. So legal research can get much faster and higher quality, which means lawyers will need less time to prep, which means they can spend more time with clients and in courtrooms, which means that the number of lawyers needed will go down, just based on productivity. And simple legal questions will be answerable via a digital virtual assistant, which means paralegals and junior lawyers will have competition too.

Will Watson or some other cognitive computing solution ever be in a position to “practice law?” That’s a tougher question, and likely depends more on regulations and professional liability than it does on the technology. It’s not ready for that sort of thing quite yet, but it’s hard to imagine that it won’t be in a foreseeable future. Will Watson be able to replace lower value legal tasks that formerly only lawyers could do? Highly likely, to the level of near certainty.