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IBM’s Watson is close to becoming realized in the legal research realm.

According to The Globe and Mail, a class project-turned-startup launched by University of Toronto students that uses IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer to do legal research now has backing from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Called Ross, the app uses Watson to scour millions of pages of case law and other legal documents in seconds and answer legal questions. Its founders liken it to a smarter version of iPhone’s Siri, but for lawyers, and say it could one day replace some of the grunt research work now done by low-level associates at the world’s top law firms. It is one of several attempts to apply what is called “cognitive computing” to the historically technology-averse legal profession.

And Ross is learning quickly. One of Ross’s developers noted: “It’s early days for sure.” “But what we are seeing is Ross grasping and understanding legal concepts and learning based on the questions and also getting user feedback. … Just like a human, it’s getting its experience in a law firm and being able to learn and get better.”

This will eventually have major ramifications for legal research as we know it. As mentioned in the article, this will likely replace much of the grunt research like finding particular statutes or cases by citation. But Ross is nowhere near being able to creatively use case law to form arguments. And there are many issues to be worked out with Ross storing proprietary information.

While there is no denying that Ross will help augment intelligence, he should be considered more of another tool in a lawyer’s toolbox rather than a replacement. Think of Iron Man’s JARVIS as opposed to The Terminator.

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