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WVU Law Artificial Intelligence
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Exploring Artificial Intelligence and the law

This summer, some WVU Law students found out just how difficult it is to argue with a machine.

They learned how deepfake videos might impact the 2020 election, why explainability and interpretability matter, and whether an algorithm can be biased.

The students took the class Artificial Intelligence and the Law, a summer course aimed at familiarizing future lawyers with the basics of AI because the technology is increasingly being used in the legal profession and beyond.

WVU Law Amy Cyphert on Zoom

“AI is at use all around us today and already impacts our lives in lots of ways,” said law lecturer Amy Cyphert, who taught the online course. “From determining who gets bank loans to how long someone spends in prison, we are relying more and more on algorithms to help make decisions, and those decisions can have far-reaching consequences.”

AI allows computers to form predictions based on large amounts of data. Machine learning, a subset of AI, is when an algorithm is programmed to revise its own code in real time based on the results it is generating. 

Machine learning output can be surprisingly accurate and difficult for a person to distinguish. For example, a deepfake video manipulates a subject’s face or voice so it can altered and seamlessly inserted into another video. The result looks very much like original footage. That can have serious implication in elections and the courtroom.

The legal practice of e-discovery will continue to evolve and utilize machine learning technology. Computers can already take on time-consuming research that reduces burdens on courts and accelerates the judicial process.

Companies currently exist that market products using big data to predict how a judge might rule in a case and even what kind of language in a motion might be most persuasive. The rise in AI in many areas of society also brings with it legal and ethical issues.

“Lawyers will increasingly need to be familiar with these ideas in order to be effective advocates in almost any field,” Cyphert said.

To explore these topics and other AI issues, WVU Law students studied ideas from computer science, data science, and philosophy. The course presented current topics and trends found in law review and newspaper articles, judicial opinions, and engineering publications. Students also listened to podcasts, watched TEDTalks and interacted with websites that illustrated core concepts of AI and the law.

Cyphert also took advantage of the online class format to conduct video interviews with professionals in the field to gain inside perspectives on AI. These include a cybersecurity researcher, the CEO of a data mining company and a CIA officer in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“These interviews were one of the best parts of the class, and they would not have been possible if this were a traditional course presented in the classroom,” Cyphert said        

WVU Law Dayton Meadows

Second-year law student Dayton Meadows learned that as AI becomes more prominent in all aspects of our lives and—in some cases—outperforms human experts, lawyers must play an important role in ensuring it is used fairly and ethically at all times.

Meadows, a United States Marine Corps veteran, says he first learned of AI from a fellow Marine who studied computer science. He enrolled in Cyphert’s course this summer to learn more about the intersection of AI and the law after gaining a basic understanding of the topic and its implications on society.

“Artificial Intelligence has many barriers to interpretability and has been shown to create biased predictions that harm legally protected groups like minorities,” Meadows said. “These algorithms may have been programmed by a very small, homogenous group whose products make decisions that impact everyone.”

For Meadows, the future of AI and the law in clear.

“Lawyers need to be educated about Artificial Intelligence and lead the charge to ensure that the legal protections for all members of society that we have fought for remain in place,” he said.

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