ChatGPT : A Gift or A Curse?

“Artificial Intelligence is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”

Professor Stephen Hawking

The most popular topic of the Christmas season last year, surprisingly, was not the impending holidays, trips out of town or the new year looming ahead. This was because OpenAI – an American artificial intelligence research lab – released ChatGPT – an astonishingly coherent AI chatbot – in late November, which became the talk of the month. Within a week from its release, ChatGPT recorded more than one million users. More shockingly yet, it reached its ‘hype cycle’ (the time taken by a software to reach its peak maturity and popularity), within a record-breaking period of five days from the date of its release.

The basic function of ChatGPT is replying to prompts ranging across many fields of knowledge. The amount of analysis and detail in its replies, and the speed with which it compiles these replies, has left some professionals in awe and in fear. The latter feeling originates from a well-justified suspicion that ChatGPT would soon replace them in their workplace. Indeed, an employer can save time and money by assigning tasks to ChatGPT, rather than having them done manually. Further, the chatbot is much more productive and flexible than a human, and facilitates functions such as remote access and identification of future trends and patterns.

The question then is, whether ChatGPT is likely to invade courtrooms and legal firms, forever replacing among others, lawyers, judges, jurists and legal drafters. Many believe that this speculation is unfounded. This is because there still are many aspects to law that require human experience, intuition and sensitivity. Therefore, legal professionals have no reason to form undue hostility towards ChatGPT; rather they should use its features to improve the productivity of their work. For instance, legal firms can cut the time taken for legal research in half, by assigning the task to ChatGPT. Similarly, firms can also divert their legal drafting to the chatbot by providing it with carefully tailored prompts. Therefore, in the legal profession, ChatGPT should be seen more as a highly proficient assistant, than a threat to be taken out.

It is intuitive that the legal profession would have to change quite significantly to accommodate its new AI assistant. For one, the accuracy of the information provided by ChatGPT is still quite questionable. Therefore, those who use it for legal research, drafting or predictions should have to have measures in place to check the accuracy of the data gathered by it. Further, there should be strict mechanisms imposed against feeding confidential data (such as the personal information of clients) to the chatbot. This is because the chatbot reuses the data fed to it by one user, when replying to related prompts entered by other users, giving rise to ethical conundrums.

Apart from resolving issues related to the shortcomings of ChatGPT, professionals would also have to learn new skills and forget outdated ones in order to make the best use of the application. For instance, skills such as penmanship and document drafting would have to be replaced with the ability to compile precise and accurate prompts to feed the chatbot.

ChatGPT’s ripple effects on the legal profession don’t end there. As a result of this application affecting numerous other fields such as art and design, computing and education, many legal and ethical issues have arisen. One such pressing issue is plagiarism of academic work. This has created numerous complications in academic institutions resulting in the authenticity of students’ work coming under scrutiny. However, the biggest ethical issue caused by the chatbot, is arguably, the claim that artists are making about the chatbot reusing their art without permission. This allegation is hard to prove, as the chatbot mostly just reuses a few aspects of an artwork (ie- the style or the theme) and doesn’t copy the entire piece. However, it is plagiarism all the same. These issues will multiply and become more complex as the chatbot goes through more iterations (cycles of development). Thus, these will be issues that legal professionals will have to study, interpret and set down laws about in the near future.

It is still too early to determine what ChatGPT has in store for humanity. However, with enough effort we may be able to turn Professor Hawkins’ ominous prediction into a good omen. To achieve this, those of us in the legal profession have to be open to change, make balanced judgements and find innovative ways to address the ethical issues created by the rapidly evolving chatbot.

Penned by Rtr. Swarie Athukorala

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