It will soon be negligent not to use AI, Master of the Rolls predicts

Vos: AI directors will raise fascinating legal problems

The day is coming, and soon, when professionals and others will be legally on the hook for not using generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), the Master of the Rolls said yesterday.

Sir Geoffrey Vos KC also suggested that GenAI was more likely to be used directly by consumers, rather than just by the lawyers who advise them.

Wrapping up the last of a series of LawtechUK events on GenAI – this one entitled ‘Roadmap to 2030’ – he said an earlier event had been challenged “to think of the day when there will be liability, legal liability, not for using AI, but for failing to use AI to protect the interests of the people we serve.

“I think that is undoubtedly a day that’s coming soon. When an accountant can use an AI tool to spot fraud in a major corporate situation and fails to do so, surely there might be liability. The same for employer liability to protect employees and in every other field you can possibly imagine.”

The same speaker in January, Australian lawyer and smart contract expert Natasha Blycha, also predicted AI acting as directors and officers of companies. Sir Geoffrey said: “That may not be far away either and gives rise to some fascinating legal problems.”

Ms Blycha, managing director of Sydney law firm Stirling & Rose, has posited the notion of a ‘synthetic director’, an AI system trained using machine-learning techniques to undertake directorial responsibilities.

“They are expected to possess skills closely mimicking human governance capability, but with superior access to data and analysis capability for real-time decision making unparalleled by human capabilities,” she wrote on her website. They would ‘sit’ on ‘hybrid’ boards with human directors.

Sir Geoffrey continued that it was, however, “a little overdramatic to say that AI will replace people”.

“What I think AI is doing already and will do is to assist people to do things better, to do things quicker and to do things more cheaply. And, by the way, that applies as much to lawyers as it does to anybody else.”

He acknowledged that not everything GenAI produced was absolutely accurate. “It may never be. But the human element is to make sure that, when you’re assisted, you know when to spot that something you are being told might need a little more checking.”

He used GenAI images as an example: “We are not going to go from here to a world where people do not generate images and try to trick people into believing they’re true.

“But what we have to do is to educate the public to understand that there can be such things as fake images and they will then learn that they won’t believe things unless they’re either verified or they fit with their stock of human knowledge.”

Looking to the future impact of AI on legal services, Sir Geoffrey contrasted an earlier panel debate where one speaker talked about it empowering workers who were not lawyers by giving them real-time access to legal and regulatory assistance, and another thought it would be more about law firms and the way they did business.

“For my part, I think one would cut to the chase and find that real clients are going to be using AI… People cannot afford lawyers. People need their legal problems dealt with and they will use whatever they can get.”

This was in line with his oft-stated vision for a digital justice system: “It is to give people access to justice for their small legal problems for which they cannot any longer always get a lawyer and point them in the right direction.”

He disagreed with Catriona Wolfenden, a partner at national firm Weightmans and its product and innovation director, who told a session at the event that it might be a decade before consumers would really have confidence in AI.

“I have respectfully to say, I don’t think so. I think younger consumers have confidence in it now. And I think many people will use a digital justice system that points them to a dispute resolution system they can access themselves without a lawyer to resolve many of their legal problems. And, by the way, they already are.”

Sir Geoffrey also stressed the importance of having “old-fashioned, if you like, legal advice” available for vulnerable people who could not go online, along with legal aid to support them.

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