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Big Data, Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence: What Does It All Mean?

A lthough Dr. Seuss did not have big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), or artificial intelligence (AI) in mind when he wrote, “It’s not about what it is. It’s about what it can become,” that sentiment from The Lorax perfectly sums them up. But buzzwords like Big Data, IoT, and AI can be confusing, distracting, or fail to convey an accurate picture of what is going on. What do these concepts really mean for in-house counsel?

To start, the businesses we support are changing rapidly to adjust to, and compete in, the new technology driven environment. In order to do our job and fulfill our mission, we must learn and adapt to keep up with the technological changes. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct makes clear that “[t]o maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology… .”1 

Big data

Big data is the term used to describe large data sets that can now, due to increasing computational power, be analyzed quicker and much more efficiently. And while the focus is often on the first half of this phrase, largeness of data is relative. What sets big data apart is that the data — of any size, structured or unstructured — can be analyzed to reveal previously hidden connections and relationships.

Beyond the familiar siren call of e-discovery, what data sets might be analyzed to reveal valuable connections and relationships to improve outcomes? To start, here are some real world possibilities:
  • Outside counsel evaluations and auditing of billing practices;
  • Case evaluations to determine likely outcomes, including forecasting budget based on inputs such as facts, venue, and party counsel;
  • Researching the history of opposing parties, opposing counsel, and neutrals (e.g., judges, jurors, mediators, and arbitrators) to discern common tactics, strategies, and decisions. Prior case history, social media, and profiles can predict how individuals will behave in the future;
  • Identifying workplace fraud and compliance red flags;
  • Surveillance and tracking, including employee and remote worker tracking, vehicle telematics, autonomous vehicles, and drones; and,
  • Smart contracts and the use of blockchain
While more data is sometimes just that, if the data can reveal previously hidden connections or relationships, then you have big data on your hands that can be analyzed to improve outcomes. Who doesn’t want that? There are other considerations that will be discussed below, as the use of analytics on data sets to reveal previously hidden information is not without its ethical concerns, risks, and detractors.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of devices that are connected to and communicate with other devices over the internet. These devices collect data that is typically stored in the “cloud” (another buzzword that means a data storage facility) to be tracked, analyzed, and shared with other devices.

The list of devices connecting to the network continues to grow rapidly and transform the way we work. The short list includes smart phones, smart watches, wearable devices, desktop digital assistants, and smart cars. Through these and other tools, companies can better monitor and track such things as supplies in and shipments out, locations of fleet vehicles, productivity, as well as monitor employee movement.

Artificial intelligence

Though AI is billed as the new frontier in computer science, its arrival has been heralded by science fiction for a long time. Simply stated, a computer simulates learning by applying what it knows to predict an outcome, evaluates the correctness of its prediction, and then incorporates this new data as input in making its next prediction. Then it repeats the process again and again. In other words, instead of giving the computer a set of rules to abide by, complex algorithms allow the computer to develop the rules over time.

Already, AI is making in-roads into the legal profession, performing tasks such as document review (e.g., e-discovery), records retrieval, legal research, and contract drafting. Today, any routine task is a target for AI, though this may be changing. As the technology improves, futurists now ask whether machines could someday learn creativity and judgment.

Ethical considerations and risks

While such technology offers the promise of efficiency and improved outcomes from the accessibility of more and better quality data, the complexity of the systems are not understood by the average user.  Cybersecurity and privacy risks continue to be a constraint on widespread adoption — especially as many people often overlook the privacy concerns in exchange for convenience and ease of use.

And although adopting these technologies yields greater productivity gains, as a society we have yet to consider or solve the issue of how to deal with the resulting economic disruption.

Nonetheless, change is occurring rapidly, and it is an imperative that your law department is ready for what this future can become. What should you do to prepare for these new technologies?
  • Nurture a culture of innovation;
  • Invest in learning and experimenting with industry specific technologies;
  • Think strategically (e.g., what problem does this solve?) when adopting technologies; and,
  • Be open to change.
Even so, technology is rapidly changing so be cautious not to over commit to any solution that may all too soon become obsolete, particularly if you are in an early phase of a learning curve. Aim for low risk/low cost solutions that provide clear benefits to the department. As your learning and experience grows, so will your tolerance for risk.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer. 


1 Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 1.1 cmt. 8 (Am. Bar Ass’n 1983).

About the Authors

Edward T. Paulis III is vice president and senior assistant general counsel at Zurich North America, a leading property-casualty insurer in the United States. Ed is also a former chair of ACC’s Litigation and Law Department Management committees.

Joanna M. Obrochta is a legal intern at Zurich North Americas’ Corporate Law department, and has entered her third year at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.