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Law firm partners should invest a few minutes in their own future, by watching a recent series of TED Talks about artificial intelligence.

None of these talks deal directly with the practice of law, but all of them are highly relevant to the Scylla and Charybdis of profitability and competition that threaten small and midsize law firms throughout the world. They are worth watching and discussing with your partners.

TED.com currently has 35 talks posted on the subject of artificial intelligence. Here are five that are especially relevant to the future of law firms:

Gary Kasparov, Don't fear intelligent machines. Work with them. (May 2017) 

Stuart Russell, 3 principles for creating safer AI (May 2017) 

Maurice Conti, The incredible inventions of intuitive AI (February 2017) 

Kevin Kelly, How AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution (June 2016) 

Blaise Agüera y Arcas, How computers are learning to be creative  (May 2016)

We lawyers really need to get intelligent about artificial intelligence.

AI is not the latest technological toy, nor is it some menacing concept lurking out there in the future. It has arrived in the legal profession and offers great opportunities for law firms to do better professional work, satisfy clients better, and become more productive and profitable. The intelligent use of artificial intelligence could become one of the most important survival skills for small law firms, especially in the retail legal services sector of the profession. AI also is a great leveler of the competitive playing field in the legal profession, allowing even small firms to compete successfully against the largest, best-resourced global and international firms.

This is why we at Walker Clark advise our clients that possible applications of artificial intelligence are an essential part of sustainable performance and profitability -- now and not five or ten years in the future.

Will AI replace lawyers or enhance them?

In Gary Kasparov's TED Talk, he prefers to characterize the issue not as "human or machine" but "human plus machine." He concludes with words that lawyers and law firms should remember as we contemplate the "law firm of the future," because, to a large extent that future is already arriving:

We don't get to choose when and where technological progress stops. We cannot slow down. In fact, we have to speed up. Our technology excels at removing difficulties and uncertainties from our lives, and so we must seek out ever more difficult, ever more uncertain challenges. Machines have calculations. We have understanding. Machines have instructions. We have purpose. Machines have objectivity. We have passion. We should not worry about what our machines can do today. Instead, we should worry about what they still cannot do today, because we will need the help of the new, intelligent machines to turn our grandest dreams into reality. And if we fail, if we fail, it's not because our machines are too intelligent, or not intelligent enough. If we fail, it's because we grew complacent and limited our ambitions. Our humanity is not defined by any skill, like swinging a hammer or even playing chess.

Norman Clark

To read more about artificial intelligence in the practice of law, see these previous posts in Walker Clark WorldView: