Innovate UK backs bid to create “thinking” legal AI

Pullan: Significant step forward

Contract review business ThoughtRiver has been awarded funding from the government for a £400,000 development project to develop “thinking AI”.

The Cambridge-based company said the project would make cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology available to a broader audience because the AI would be able to answer lay users’ questions without having to undergo significant training or configuration first.

The backing – for a majority of the project’s costs – is from Innovate UK, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

The research concept – the detail of which is being kept under wraps – “represents a significant advance in the ability of computers to rationalise complex problems in novel scenarios based on self-taught logic”, a spokeswoman said.

The resulting technology would be able to understand contractual information and use it to answer complex questions even in situations it has not seen before.

Current state-of-the-art AI is still “very reliant on the quality of training data provided in the first place”, the spokeswoman explained.

She told Legal Futures: “An example of questions we want it to handle enable is ‘What’s the value of this contract?’ This can be a simple question which current technology can handle – there’s a number in a specific place in a standard or typical order form or encased in drafting.

“But usually it is a far more complex question which would take a human several steps to calculate e.g. adding up unit prices and quantities from various schedules, looking at the frequency of these charges and then factoring in the term of the contract etc.

“In this latter case, if the contract in question is a known format, then the answer can be derived but only with a significant amount of logic. If it is not a known format – ie a third-party contract – current day technology will struggle to generate the answer automatically.”

ThoughtRiver’s current platform automatically reads and reviews commercial contracts for pre-screening purposes, essentially doing the work of a paralegal – but much more quickly – in identifying where a contract needs to be read and why.

Initially incubated at Cambridge law firm Taylor Vinters, it has since received funding from a range of sources and works with large multinational companies and law firms in US, Europe and Asia Pacific.

The project will be progressed in collaboration with natural language processing consultancy iLexIR and its founder, Professor Ted Briscoe of Cambridge University.

Tim Pullan, CEO of ThoughtRiver and a former Taylor Vinters partner, said: “We have invested heavily in ground breaking digitisation technology to bring contracting into the 21st century. This project represents a further significant step forward and we are honoured to be recognised by Innovate UK and to be working on another project with Ted and his team.”

Lord Tim Clement-Jones, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, added: “I am a strong advocate of world-leading AI R&D taking place in the UK – especially in the context of key export industries such as legal services – and thrilled that Tim and the ThoughtRiver team have been awarded this project”.

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