The ChatGPT prototype launched in November 2022. Since then both technology pundits and business sectors have been asking how much of a milestone this represents in the development of AI and machine learning. Interest has peaked again recently with the latest version (ChatGPT-4) has recently released. So let’s first recap on some of the fundamentals before considering the impact on the legal sector. ChatGPT is a chatbot which uses natural language processing to respond to any question asked of it. But beyond the novelty, some people are warning that this latest development is a step along the path to creating a dangerously smart AI.
ChatGPT is in an evaluation phase and is currently free to use while its creators (OpenAI) gather data and feedback on how it is performing. However, this is expected to change and it is anticipated that it will be monetized, if only to cover the considerable compute costs its creators have referred to (as well as the new $20 per month GPT Plus subscription service which has recently launched). It is not currently connected to the internet but has been trained on information through 2021. However the latest announcement to incorporate it into Microsoft Bing’s search will change that, and bring it front and centre of how people search for and find information. Unlike some chatbots it does not try to hide the fact that it is a machine and it is not trying to pass the Turing test by fooling people that it is a real person.
With that said, it provides an impressive user-experience. It has been trained to give long form answers, typically responding with a few sentences on your chosen topic. The information combined with the structure provides a richer experience as opposed to a single line answer. ChatGPT can also be used to draft content for social media on a topic of your choice (complete with hashtags), provide examples of code, summarize recipes or provide condensed biographies of your favourite band. The internet is awash with other suggestions as to how it can be utilized.
But what might this mean for the legal profession? Is this a significant step towards transforming our industry? If you ask ChatGPT it will tell you, “AI technology is impacting the legal industry by providing assistance with legal research, document review, contract analysis, predicting outcomes in legal cases and developing virtual legal assistance which can save time and reduce cost. Additionally, it raises concerns about job displacement and potential biases in AI systems.”
On a more practical level, when asked ChatGPT will provide you with the summary of a contract type along with its intended purpose and typical clauses it would contain. And, pressed further it will provide examples of each type of clause.
To answer the question more meaningfully we need to understand (or at least hypothesize) what ChatGPT is doing behind the scenes. Is it creating new content or re-presenting the data it has been trained on? ChatGPT is not a thinking machine (for now), but it is highly skilled at pattern recognition. In this case, it is the pattern of how words are used in relation to each other. It knows what kinds of things are written about a particular theme and can dynamically create content on a topic, in a style or format which is relevant or familiar for that subject. Using this approach ChatGPT can even generate original poems or jokes which align to these previous patterns (but are of questionable quality).
But to appear to be accurate it needs to have been trained on numerous past examples of good content to provide a relevant response to a given request. Currently ChatGPT has been trained as a generalist rather than specialist – so the question becomes one of capability – what could be achieved if this capability was applied with much more focus to legal? To answer this we can already look to technology solutions like Luminance Corporate, which can analyse a contract and provide analysis on a clause-by-clause basis of how acceptable they are, given previously approved language, or how dramatically they deviate from it. While this makes lawyers more efficient, it does not remove the need for the assessment and decision-making of a trained legal professional.
Which brings us to the second limitation of AI-enhanced tools. They predict outcomes based on past examples but cannot predict outcomes once new variables come into play. For example it is highly unlikely that AI would be able to create an acceptable legislative framework for a new circumstance, such as the event of driverless cars. To do this would require genuine intelligence to synthesize multiple contributing factors taking in to consideration the nature of the new technology alongside a comprehensive understanding of the Road Traffic Act.
How significant is ChatGPT today? Its significance in the public domain cannot be overstated, but it still has a long way to go, even with the release of GPT-4 later this year may bring us closer. So will advancements such as how it is integrated with Bing’s search, other Microsoft products and capabilities, and other legal technologies in the market. It could also significantly alter how present AI solutions within legal are trained.
What may be more significant is the ‘AI race’ that will begin with businesses like Google announcing release of their version of AI products to the market. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also recently compared AI to the introduction of books and the internet. What is obvious is that the legal sector must pay close attention and be prepared to adapt to a very different future.