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"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

In a time when we all carry a computer in our pockets (otherwise called a phone, but we immediately clarify that it is a “smart” one), with processing power that exceeds that of supercomputers from just a few decades ago, the quote seems almost unbelievable. It was uttered by a man who had built IBM from scratch and whose son later, by tapping the potential for computers, grew it into a global superpower whose financial resources exceed the budget of more than a few sovereign countries. Watson wasn’t alone in this apparent technological myopia; Bill Gates, whom software made the richest man in the world, a few decades after Watson stated that “640K of memory should be enough for everyone”.

Watson and Gates are both considered visionaries in their respective fields; it seems that even for pioneers and champions of technology, it is extremely difficult to predict its rapid development.

In light of that, abiding by traditional wisdom – that computers will not (at least not any time soon) be able to perform certain tasks that are considered to be more “human” – seems obsolete. The law is one of areas where this wisdom usually applied; while it may have been considered probable or inevitable for robots to replace employees at McDonald’s, us lawyers traditionally think of our profession as one so inextricably linked to social structures of the
world we live in, that a computer could never grasp the complexities of legal reasoning.
These, according to us lawyers, depend in no small part on value judgments, assessments in relation to questions like whether a certain phrase represents an insult or not. The question about whether something is an insult is not “mechanical”, it is value-based, and it relies heavily on the context, purpose, state of mind of the society. It is, so we say, a human matter,
and the same applies or should apply to almost any legal issue.

However, poker and go are distinctly “human”, too. The former depends on evaluating human reactions, the latter on visual perception of the playing surface, which not so long ago – in contrast to chess (where it is all about combinatorics, traditional computer turf) – was considered to be in the exclusive human realm.

Another problem is said to be the sheer amount of combinations that legal rules project onto social reality. For example, Slovenian legal legend Boštjan M. Zupančič once wrote: “If we calculate the number of possible combinations among these 300 statutory provisions, and we conservatively estimate that each article of the Criminal Code represents a unified concept (which is not true at all), and if we further limit ourselves only to the combinations of two, three, four and five provisions, we get no less than 50 billion combinations”. [1]

50 billion may sound like a lot, and in 1985 when BMZ’s article was published, a computer capable of one gigaFLOPS (one billion calculations per second) cost around 42 million dollars (adjusted for inflation until 2013); in 2015, i.e. two years ago, the price was 8 dollar cents. Billions are the domain of computers, and computers are cheap. In our pockets, we carry computers with capabilities far exceeding those that took mankind to the Moon.

Doctors are already experiencing being outclassed by computers. Lawyers will, too. The only question is will we be able to ride this mustang, or will it trample us (or pass us by and leave us in dust, best case scenario).

At Jadek & Pensa, we are actively pursuing the digitization of legal processes. We have made our first baby steps into computer automation of certain aspects of legal analysis. We are combining information technology knowledge, especially programming, with legal knowledge (we have a lot of both) and are moving in a direction that ensures our customers receive top legal services at a significantly lower price. Today, our steps are small and uncertain. Tomorrow, they will be bigger and more decisive. The day after tomorrow, they will be completely digital.

1. Boštjan M. Zupančič, Nekatere značilnosti pravne epistemologije, predavanje v Slovenskem filozofskem društvu 11.12.1985, published in: Boštjan M. Zupančič, Kazensko Procesno Pravo, odločbe in razprave, ČZ Uradni list Republike Slovenije, 1991. BMZ finishes up his analysis by stating that lawyers will not be able to be certain of accuracy of their legal reasoning until such time as »a computer will provide them with expert software, plowing through all possible combinations«. A prophetic thought, albeit one that probably was not conceived as such.