Luminance ‘Insights’ series: Dr Mike Lynch OBE and the Future of AI

6 May 2020 | Luminance

The novel coronavirus is accelerating the pace of change in the legal industry, with many lawyers embracing technology to deliver efficient, effective and insightful legal counsel for their clients and firms, from any location. Last week, as part of Luminance’s ‘Insights’ webinar series, Luminance spoke with one of Britain’s most renowned tech entrepreneurs and Luminance investor, Dr Mike Lynch OBE. Mike, who has pioneered successful companies such as Autonomy, Blinkx and invested in fundamental technology startups such as Darktrace, Featurespace and Luminance, shared his thoughts on the evolution of AI and its value in today’s legal sector:

Artificial Intelligence: Separating the hype from the reality

Artificial Intelligence or ‘AI’ is the undisputed buzzword in legal technology. So much so that Mike notes, “AI is now a marketing term- but just because a company has written about AI doesn’t mean they actually use AI.” However it hasn’t always been that way- when Mike undertook his PhD and post-doctoral research in the field in the 1980s, “people weren’t interested in AI like they are now.” Indeed, in the last ten years there has been some real breakthroughs in the applicability of AI technology to fields such as law, with platforms like Luminance “making previously unsolvable problems solvable.”

Key to understanding this development, is making the distinction between ‘narrow AI’, defined by Mike as “AI that is applied to solve a particular problem, for instance speech recognition, identifying things in a photo or determining a clause in a contract”, and ‘broad AI’, which “is not just looking at one problem to solve, but can do everything… replicating humans.” The latter is “way beyond” where we are at the moment- but that doesn’t mean to say that this is disappointing or inadequate. In fact, applications of narrow AI - like Luminance - are proving to be game-changing for many in the legal profession, using the latest advances in machine learning to cut through vast troves of legal documents, freeing up lawyers’ time to focus on higher-value analysis.

The problem with rules

Yet, until now, rules-based technologies have dominated the LegalTech market- with these legacy providers, organisations were required to invest months or even years in configuration and ‘training’ before the systems were even able to be used. When they could be adopted, they were a 'black box' technology, giving little insight as to how results were generated and potentially missing key findings. Critically, Mike suggests, they will reflect the limits of knowledge and bias of the humans that programmed them, because “with rules-based approaches, it is the human defining the problem, setting out what they must find within legal data”. Mike concludes that “as well as being incompatible with the subtleties and complexities of the real world, you may think that you have found what you needed from your legal data but the chances are, you haven’t.” Mike suggests rules-based are best consigned to history, since “the power and flexibility of machine learning is the future of legal technology”.

Luminance brings true machine learning to the legal profession, blending supervised and unsupervised machine learning to rapidly read and form an understanding of legal data, instantly surfacing critical information to the lawyer without the need for pre-programming or machine training. Blending these two types of machine learning ensures lawyers using Luminance have the most robust, thorough review possible. For instance, it is only by using unsupervised machine learning, where the machine analyses documents without reference to human labels and concepts, that Luminance’s can uncover ‘unknown unknowns’ in legal documents- the risks presented within datasets that no-one searched for or labelled because they didn’t know they even existed. Supervised machine learning ensures Luminance then continually learns from the lawyer’s interaction with the platform, constantly building and refining its understanding to become increasingly bespoke to the nuances and specialties of a lawyer or firm.

Embracing the tech: Time to ‘let go’

Nonetheless, a battle for many of those in the legal profession is “learning how to work differently…learning to let go of the tedious bit, with the machine doing 99% of the tedious work and leaving the high-value 1% to the human.” With Luminance, it is the technology sorting and analysing the admin-heavy, lower-value work, allowing lawyers to focus on the high-level insight and analysis. This ensures that lawyers can be at the forefront of the review, whether it be identifying an unknown trap in an early case assessment (ECA) for a litigation case or uncovering deal-killers in a high-pressure M&A due diligence.

Crucial to this is, is that with true machine learning platforms like Luminance, the human is steering the review process. Mike warns “of course, if it is a machine that sets out to solve 100% of the problem, it will fail as humans are incredible.”

Mike ends the conversation with Luminance by explaining that the primary benefit of AI technology is its flexibility – this is why it’s important to test an AI in your own environment. Mike explains that many companies have pitched purported AIs to his investment fund that demo fantastically in a controlled setting - but which fail to successfully process information in a real-world environment. Luminance recognises the best way to see the value of real AI technology is for lawyers to try it out for themselves, and thus offers a two-week free trial period for all organisations interested in trying the technology on their own documents. Mike adds, “if a vendor allows you to test the system you ought to get stunning results because the machine will have learnt from your own examples.”

Moving forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for lawyers to adopt effective, high-quality innovation. Next-generation technology like Luminance is a valued asset for law firms and organisations, “giving them the answers they need earlier”. This not only leapfrogs existing legacy technologies, but provides lawyers with the tools they need as they navigate an uncertain and changing legal landscape.