A Posse List blog post earlier this year, Computer-aided document review has arrived (12 January 2010), comments on a thought-provoking e-discovery study described in an academic journal article. The premise of the underlying study, which compares computer classification of documents with manual review, is that automated systems are capable of categorizing documents at least as well as teams of human reviewers in an e-discovery setting. While it raises interesting points, I am not convinced that the evidence supports the authors’ conclusion that computer-aided review has arrived quite yet. It is still a stretch to suggest that human document reviewers face an imminent risk of being supplanted by artificial intelligence-based processes.
The underlying study by a trio of recognized experts in cognitive science, information management, and e-discovery, Herb Roitblat, Anne Kershaw, and Patrick Oot, is described in detail in their journal article, Document Categorization in Legal Electronic Discovery: Computer Classification vs. Manual Review, published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (link is to PDF at the Posse List).
There is no question that software can detect ever-more sophisticated language patterns in documents and classify them by theme. Whether this translates readily into a persuasive argument that legal document review will be more fully automated in the near future, or even that such a development is inevitable, is a different question. And I don’t think the study provides conclusive support for the proposition that computer classification could reasonably substitute for human review.
Before turning to my reservations about the study, I want to raise a potentially bigger issue. Irrespective of advances in technology and compelling statistics, we need to ask whether courts and litigators will accept a discovery process that is ever more reliant on technology in pursuit of efficiency. I think the likely answer is, ‘only to a point.’
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By: Foster Gibbons