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AI: The new arms race?

20 February 2019 | Luminance

President Trump’s ‘American AI Initiative’ executive order, announced last week at the White House, is the latest endorsement of artificial intelligence in a climate where AI and its impact on society are increasingly taking centre-stage in global policy.

The order, which primarily stresses that the US “must maintain leadership” in the AI field, also touches on the importance of the nation’s federal agencies devising frameworks to regulate and monitor the use of AI across the States. By publishing an executive order on AI, the Trump government has pronounced its unwavering ambition to be at the forefront of the field and to develop and invest in AI at a rate unrivalled by any other nation, especially its nearest competitor, China.

The announcement has further fuelled what Theresa Payton, former White House CIO, describes as the “new arms race”, where global superpowers, namely China and the US, are competing to dominate the AI sphere globally. In 2017, China claimed that by 2030, it would be the world leader in AI, whilst the US, according to Oxford University research published the same year, are in fact responsible for 33% of the world’s total AI capabilities, compared to China’s 17%. Either way, it is clear from these figures that both nations recognise the power of AI to positively transform the way we live and work.

Amidst the claims to global AI leadership, other innovation hubs – such as the UK and Singapore – have been quietly making significant advances in the field. One industry in particular which has seen advances is law. Legal AI solutions have been recognised through positive government endorsement in both regions, both financially and legislatively, as political institutions begin to fully realise the potential benefits of this type of innovation.

Crucially, both the British and the Singaporean governments see the importance of strengthening ties between education and innovation. In Singapore, businesses are quite literally building bridges with local universities to encourage R&D knowledge sharing between the academic and technology spheres. The Singaporean government has made clear its commitment to furthering its reputation for innovation, with $114 million invested into the ‘AI Singapore’ initiative to drive this. Its legal sector has seen a steady interest in AI solutions, with three of the ‘Big Four’ Singaporean law firms deploying Luminance and institutions like the SCCA (Singaporean Corporate Counsel Association) developing dedicated innovation departments to tackle implementation and awareness of technology’s importance in the legal sector.

The UK has also recently seen a £1.2 million government funding of legal AI in December 2018. As in Singapore, UK universities are increasingly prioritising AI in their curriculums, with close to 15 institutions now offering AI-related degrees. Government departments like BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) are actively encouraging the implementation of legal AI through talks, panels and workshops designed to stimulate discussion and boost understanding.

Away from government initiatives and classroom discussions, law firms and in-house legal teams around the world are adopting AI solutions at an unprecedented rate, with its advantages – both in terms of added insight and efficiency savings – clearer than ever. For the legal profession, this means significant structural changes; law firms are becoming less top-heavy and are increasingly making provisions for technology and innovation, with departments like ‘Knowledge Management’ becoming more prominent to support this transition. Lawyers are more capable than ever before of overcoming industry challenges – such as reviewing high volumes of documentation – with the help of AI, freeing them to focus on higher-value tasks and deliver more informed advice to clients.

It is clear that governments around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of AI, rolling out policies and targets to ensure that they do not get left behind. We are moving beyond talking about the positive potential of AI; its positive impact is increasingly the focus now. Nations should be engaging with AI not only to appear innovative or win a ‘new arms race’ but to ensure that they are keeping up with the transformative effects of technology to improve the way we work. The power of AI to enhance processes across many different sectors is now proven; it is an increasing part of everyday life and the legal industry is case in point.