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This article was originally published in June 2018 with updates made on March 9, 2023.
If you remember the days of cassette tapes, floppy disks and flip phones, then we don't need to tell you how quickly technology is moving lately.
Now it seems we're running headlong into the era of artificial intelligence. Yes, smart computers capable of learning and adapting to solve complex problems. We're not quite to HAL yet, but it seems technology is getting there.
And with these new technologies comes a new vocabulary. Phrases like big data, cognitive computing, machine learning, internet-of-things and analytics are creeping into discussions outside of Silicon Valley.
It's a safe bet that law school didn't teach you how to code in machine language or study wiring schematics. So, how do you stay current with tech trends?
To help you out, here's a very basic glossary of a few terms you'll likely come across in any discussion of the future of the legal profession. We could easily devote pages to each subject, but for brevity's sake, we'll try to talk about these technologies in layman's terms within the context of the legal industry.
Folks often think of sci-fi movie plots, but the reality is that artificial intelligence simply refers to the way computers scour massive piles of data to learn and adapt to solve problems in a way that mimics natural thought processes. You'll also hear AI referred to as "machine learning" or "cognitive computing."
Analytics refers to the science (some would say art) of analyzing the information pulled from massive data sets. Also called "data analytics," this technology allows computers (and humans) to spot trends, identify patterns and even predict the future with a degree of accuracy. Here's an example of how analytics can be applied to a legal setting.
This could mean a few things, but you'll probably hear it referring to the analysis or collection of massive data sets. Big data is the bedrock from which artificial intelligence is built. For a legal professional, big data can be the information housed in large databases of court documents, case law and summaries.
Similar to artificial intelligence, cognitive computing is a sort of blanket term that could refer to several technologies. These technologies (language analytics, speech recognition, machine learning, etc.) contribute to the goal of replicating the way a human brain adapts and solves problems.
Commonly abbreviated as IOT, the internet-of-things refers to a cyber-world of connected devices like weather stations, cars, wells, alarm clocks, deep fryers, HVAC systems, etc. These devices can communicate information (things like temperature, location, altitude, on/off condition, etc.) to a central collection point, compiling massive data sets in the processes.
An offshoot of data analytics, this technology teaches computers how to recognize natural language patterns. This enables machines to comb across millions of documents to pinpoint and extract specific phrases from written content - like judicial decisions.
Using advanced statistical models, calculations and data processing, machine learning is the practice (or study) of training a computer to analyze information. The science hinges on a computer's ability to build mathematical models (algorithms) to address a specific task.
As the name implies, predictive analytics is the use of data to predict future events (and that includes things like court decisions, settlement awards and motion outcomes). By combing across massive data sets, computers are able to generate models, track patterns and spot connections to allow attorneys to build a strategy based on insight into the future.