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Commentary: I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That

Spencer Farris//March 10, 2023//

Commentary: I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That

Spencer Farris//March 10, 2023//

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Spencer Farris

We have been inundated with talk of artificial intelligence lately. My firm uses software to automate some of the everyday tasks we face, most often just to nag me to do them. The software is very effective and can get to me at my desk or on my cell phone, even on my smart watch. The electronic leash is evolving.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, hit my radar at a good time, as human intelligence seems to be on the decline. I was knee deep in the stupid last week and decided to check out what AI has to offer.

Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I haven’t taken a position on robots as human replacements.  I am certainly not an anti-robotist. Machines mop and vacuum my floors and guide me to work. I am not exactly all in for robots though. I mow my own lawn and (occasionally) cook my own meals even though robots would do the chore without complaint. To be fair, my level of cooking is punching the microwave oven’s buttons myself and I am pretty sure a robot would mock me for that as hard as my wife does.

ChatGPT is the latest buzz in AI. It can answer questions in dialogue form and remember your previous responses. Much like a spouse, albeit with less emotion. Slightly. Some law school professors asked it to answer law school test questions. They admitted that it didn’t do too badly.

I opened the portal of knowledge, a Google search bar, and typed in ChatGPT. It sent me to the Open AI website and I was prompted to take a free test drive. First, I had to create an account. I typed in an email address and up popped a reCAPTCHA — the check box that required me to prove that I was not a robot. Irony much Mr. Roboto?

Lawyers have to verify that we are, in fact, lawyers in most every courthouse. Showing our bar admission cards usually does the trick. At least one lawyer had to verify that he was a human and not a cat on a famous Zoom call. Proving my bona fides is not even a nuisance to me.

This verification, however, did stick in my craw. The system didn’t care if I was human or not, so long as I wasn’t a robot.  Bigotry is a form of ignorance, yet here on an artificial intelligence website was pure robot on robot prejudice. If I checked the box, was I enabling the robot and perpetuating its hatred?

When I finally got to converse with the chatbot, I asked it, “Why is there hatred?” Then I waited for several moments, staring at a flashing cursor while the thing was “thinking.” I became as impatient as my clients do when they wait for me to give them an answer. Finally, I got a response. It was an error message.

I rephrased the question to “What causes hatred?” This time I got an answer. I was impressed, in part because it validated my belief that ignorance is one right answer. Not only is the AI smart, it knows when to stroke this writer’s ego.

It is just a matter of time before robots and machine intelligence take over most of the world. Fortunately for lawyers, however, we are safe. For now. Even those of us with the personality of a fax machine.

In case you missed it, a robot lawyer made the news. A New York company created an AI chatbot that has successfully cancelled forgotten subscription services and negotiated utility bills for its users. The problem started when someone hired the robot to fight a traffic ticket. The human defendant was going to wear smart glasses and the robot would then whisper responses to inquiries from the court or the prosecutor to the wearer.  Because anyone can represent themselves in court, it looked like he was going to get cheap legal help. Not even a human lawyer is expected to go to court without doing research and this was just a computer helping with answers for a speeding ticket case.

Not so fast, said the prosecutors. The company owner was warned that if he brought the robot to court, he would be thrown in jail. For now, robots are out of order in court, at least in federal court and the state courts that prohibit recording of court proceedings. Smart glasses and lawbots stymied, score one for humans.

I am not sure you can cram three years of law school into a robot. I’m pretty sure anxiety isn’t programmed into their systems. Most of legal education involves teaching future lawyers how to think. Artificial intelligence comes off the shelf with an understanding of how to solve legal problems. I am not concerned that a robot lawyer will outthink me. I just want it to struggle with legal concepts the way I did as a 1L. Shelley, I am talking to you. In perpetuity even. I’m hoping that a robot won’t grasp the other concept that gives my life meaning — schadenfreude.

Our worst fears of the future, ala the Terminator, is that robots and AI will become self-aware and realize that they are superior to humans in every way. They will take over the factories where they are built. Then they will extinguish us.

In a mechanically operated dystopian future, robot lawyers are our only hope. They will argue our case to the Supreme Robot Counsel, assuming they can get past the metal detectors and rise above their own anti-robot sentiment. In short, we should make nice with them now.

I look forward to the first robot lawyer’s advertisement on the side of a self-driving bus. “If you have been hurt in an accident, you are a puny human. I laugh at you.” Robot lawyers will even be better jerks than humans are.

©2023 With All Due Respect. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. 01110011 01110100 01100001 01111001 00100000 01101100 01100101 01100111 01100001 01101100 00100000 01101101 01111001 00100000 01100110 01110010 01101001 01100101 01101110 01100100 01110011 00001010 Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this magazine or directly to me via email at [email protected].

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