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Can robots manage compliance?

Can robots manage compliance?

By Leah Darbyshire, Head of the Legal Compliance Association. 

Much of the commentary on the arrival of artificial intelligence into the legal sector has focused on the advent of ‘robot lawyers’, visualised as wearing a suit and tie and physically sitting at desks, carrying out legal work.

So regulatory issues have sprung to mind around the way that legal work is supervised, if automated in this way. I caught up with Crispin Passmore, executive director of the SRA, at ARK’s Legal IT event yesterday, who confirmed that robots will be treated by the regulator in exactly the same way as any other computer or system that is used for legal work. The SRA will regulate authorised solicitors who purchase, operate, supervise, and potentially also programme or ‘teach’ this technology.

Though when the world’s first voluntary cyborg, Neil Harbisson (pictured, who has an antenna implanted in his skull), took to the stage, he predicted that next century human biology and technology will merge. That might make the SRA’s approach a little harder to implement. Robots of course eliminate ‘human error’ and are apparently more accurate than humans, currently, but will that always be the case once things become more blurred? And when they become self-learning?

That’s if we even get to the next century. Mark Brill, a senior lecturer in future media at Birmingham City University, predicted that machines will become sentient and ‘take over’ by 2045. As evidence, he referenced a toaster which will put itself on eBay automatically if its usage drops below that of other toasters it connects with in the locality.

Leaving apocalyptic predictions aside, there could be a more imminent, practical use for artificial intelligence – within the compliance function itself. Berwin Leighton Paisner is already using robotic technology for land registry searches within the conveyancing function. One of their partners commented that, once the firm had started to use AI for conveyancing, it was easy to see its applicability in other areas.

Due diligence within compliance is certainly something that robots could help with. As James Duckenfield, chief innovation officer at Xerox, showed, robots use a computer screen in exactly the same way as humans. They can open files and emails to search for relevant information and even respond to messages. A robot could conduct searches and check for conflicts, in exactly the same way that humans currently use client-intake systems to do. The robots do not need to be physically present, either…

In the case study Duckenfield presented, 80% of the work was handled by robots who had been ‘taught’ to make complex divisions from the information shown on screen or from rules they had learnt, while 20% of extremely complex or ‘failover’ cases were redirected to humans. This might prove particularly useful for client service, where humans could offer the premium element. You can also see this working in compliance where that 20% of complex decisions might be redirected to senior compliance staff to investigate, with an even smaller percentage making its way up to the desk of the risk director or COLP, thus saving their valuable time.

There are serious advantages to using robotics, for the legal sector as a whole. In the invoice processing case study that Duckenfield mentioned six months of work had been completed in just one week. Duckenfield’s client paid for the ‘value’ of the work, too, not the time taken.

File review may well be another area where robotics could be used within compliance departments. Artificial intelligence is already being used in e-discovery. Humans use a touch screen to pull up documents; compare them side by side and file them away if they don’t contain relevant information. After time, the technology ‘learns’ to review and archive documents itself, in the same way. This could prove very useful for auditing purposes. 

The brain was certainly left buzzing yesterday and the overall message was that the technology is already there, we just need to use it. 

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29 January 2016