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AI Is Pretty Good at Predicting Case Outcomes, It Turns Out

Worried that the singularity will hit soon and the human race will be enslaved by an army of hyper-intelligent robots? Or, worse, that artificial intelligence programs will replace lawyers? Don't worry, we're not there yet. Most artificial intelligence programs are still too rudimentary to do more than rote legal work, and a Cylon-style insurrection is at least a few years off.

But, AI has gotten better at thinking like a lawyer, with a new report showing that artificial intelligence can accurately predict case outcomes 79 percent of the time. There are, however, a few catches.

That's a Pretty Intuitive Computer

For the study, published in PeerJ Computer Science, researchers set a machine-learning algorithm loose on 584 cases and found that the AI could learn to predict the rulings in those cases with a relatively high percentage of accuracy. But if you're getting really excited about working with computer-lawyer-physic software in the future, well, there are a few caveats. Those 584 cases were all from the European Court of Human Rights and the analysis was based on published judgments.

The program was learning to guess outcomes in a narrow class of cases, after they had already been decided.

Still, the research is interesting. Researchers from the University College London, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Pennsylvania mined the text of the decisions and found that they could often determine the outcome just by looking at the decision's recitation of facts. "Results indicate that the 'facts' section of a case best predicts the actual court's decision, which is more consistent with legal realists' insights about judicial decision-making," according to the researchers.

Researchers say they would have preferred to run their experiment on filings with the European Court, rather than published judgements, but didn't have access to the data, according to the ABA Journal.

The Future Is Now?

Don't expect AI to take over litigation strategy or the dispensation of justice anytime soon, though. "We don't see AI replacing judges or lawyers," says Nikolaos Aletras, a computer scientist who worked on the project. "But we think they'd find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes. It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights."

Such legal-tech applications aren't just the stuff of cutting-edge research, either. There are already a host of practice support services out there that mine existing data to give attorneys insights in to everything from how likely a judge is to be overturned on appeal to how long it takes for a typical case to be resolved.

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