For those who do not know of Ray Kurzweil, I can only encourage you in the strongest possible terms to look up information about him. A good starting point is his (extremely understated) career summary. Far more extensive and interesting is the entry in Wikipedia.[ii]
With no room in this blog to go into any detail about Ray, I will only say that to me, in addition to his achievements as an inventor, entrepreneur, writer, and scientist, he ranks as one of, if not the most exciting, far-seeing, and effective futurists of our age, measured from the last quarter of the 20th Century until now. Since, among other things, he both intends to and has a very detailed and practical plan to live forever, his influence may well continue for some time.
In July, the Wall Street Journal posted a video, described as follows:
“In this live chat from Tuesday, June 23, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and a WSJ Startup of the Year mentor, answers entrepreneurs’ questions on the future of artificial intelligence, the importance of patents and what’s next for Google.”.[iii]
The video is almost an hour long, and worth every minute of your time. Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Kurzweil has been one of the most successful creators of disruptive technologies of the past forty-five years, successfully identifying, inventing and marketing technologies and products that have changed the world. So when he makes a prediction, it pays to listen.
I want to point out and comment on one specific observation that has particular relevance to courts’ imperative to aggressively implement electronic document management. In response to one question, Mr. Kurzweil gives a very succinct description of the development and evolution of image scanning, optical character recognition (OCR), and search technology involving documents. His position is that each of these technologies emerged when (and only when) computer processing power achieved price/performance levels sufficient to make them practical. OK; nothing too startling there.
But then, he explains that what he and Google are working on now (perhaps “perfecting” is a better term”) is the next level in the evolution: Software that reads and analyzes the document content — what was called “the Blob” in the early days of digital document storage. This incredibly disruptive technology is now possible because of the exponential growth in computing power; and Google and others are racing to bring it to market.
In the video, Mr. Kurzweil is necessarily giving brief answers and only points out that this technology will completely replace what we know as “search engines.” That, in itself, is pretty disruptive. However, it will do a lot more than that. For courts, this will be an advance that may fundamentally change the nature of both court operations and judging itself. At the very least, it begins to enter the realm of law clerking. Moreover, the already high value to outside users of court information can also be expected to skyrocket. We can expect even greater demands for court documents to be available for analysis as the entire field of data analytics, which is daily being discussed in the news and in every corporate board room, comes to the courts.
Of course, there is still one little caveat (ok; maybe more than one; but this one is significant). Analytical software, no matter how sophisticated or fast, won’t work on paper or microfilmed documents. As with all things evolutionary, the next step will be achievable only after the previous steps have been taken. Thus, the motivation and urgency for courts to adopt, and adapt to, Electronic Content Management continues to accelerate and increase. Worst case, courts that are too far behind the curve will find themselves first marginalized, then at risk of becoming completely irrelevant as the rest of the world passes them by.
[i] For readers who are not members of a band, ask a friend; or check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurzweil_Music_Systems