Artificial intelligence systems can improve the legal system, according to a West Virginia University College of Law lecturer. But Amy Cyphert cautions such systems come with flaws that can provide errors and biases, which may present potentially unjust legal ramifications.
Cyphert, who also directs the WVU ASPIRE Office, will be speaking at the West Virginia Press Association Convention on Saturday (Aug. 12) in Charleston. Her session, “Artificial intelligence, ethics and its implications for communications,” will focus on AI’s potential impact on media and communications.
Cyphert has been writing law review articles and teaching law classes on AI and its ethical implications since 2020. Along with communications, she sees risks and benefits of relying on AI for practicing law and can address the importance of understanding it as a tool.
“People may not realize that artificial intelligence is in use in lots of the systems around them. AI tools are used by private companies for things like determining who gets a mortgage or who gets hired. Then there are some high-profile examples of artificial intelligence tools that are used in the criminal justice sector, like image recognition software. And AI tools can actually have an impact on who might go to jail and for how long. There are recidivism prediction tools that are relying on certain AI systems.
“Machine learning systems are only as good as the data they are trained on. The computer science concept is ‘garbage in, garbage out,’ which means if you’ve got data that’s flawed, whatever output it produces is going to be flawed. In law, and especially in the field of artificial intelligence and law, scholars say, ‘bias in, bias out.’ A system designed to predict how likely someone is to reoffend may have been trained on biased historical criminal justice data.
“There is also potential promise in the use of AI tools like ChatGPT to help lawyers reduce costs by drafting motions and other legal documents more quickly. Lawyers use artificial intelligence for things like electronic discovery and for determining what electronically stored information might be discoverable in a civil case. Someone has to pull all those documents from 30 years ago out of the filing cabinet and put them into boxes and give them to the other side. Then on that side, someone has to look at each of them and decide if they’re important. AI tools can help both sides.
“The devil is in the details with how lawyers use these tools. Those who don’t understand the technology may use it anyway and that could be detrimental to their clients. Lawyers have an obligation to save their clients money, so if you can use an AI tool that makes your case stronger and cheaper for your client, you should absolutely use it. But you have to understand the tool. If you don’t and you accidentally make the client’s case weaker, that’s problematic.” — Amy Cyphert, lecturer, WVU College of Law
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