• How far have smart speakers come? Amazon has 10000 employees dedicated to Alexahere are some of the areas they’re working on. Speaking of Alexa: Amazon team taps millions of Alexa interactions to reduce NLP error rate. Story here. (Ask yours who will win the Super Bowl.)

 

  • This is kinda fun from Above the LawYou’ll Eat A McRib, But You Won’t Try Machine Learning? What Gives?

 

  • Here’s some A2J news from Mary JuettenFree Legal Research For All: AnyLaw. “AnyLaw was established to provide a no-cost alternative solution to the unnecessary – and exclusionary — expense of legal research.”

 

  • I have friends and relatives who are GMU grads, so here’s George Mason students have a new dining option: Food delivered by robots.

 

  • This story is from Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia: The Big Read: Rise of the machine — how technology is disrupting Singapore’s law firms. “Singapore is playing catch up to embrace technological adoption in the legal and judicial world. Legal professionals say tech may also reduce the number of legal roles.”

 

  • It seems the US government shutdown is impacting AIChina To US Tech Investment Plunges 79% To Lowest Level In 7 Years Amid DC Crackdown. “In the BAT’s case, that means U.S. transactions centered on artificial intelligence, e-commerce and games — exactly the sorts of deals they made in the U.S. during 2018.” Story here.

 

  • This, from the WSJDriverless Cars Tap the Brakes After Years of Hype. “Developers take a more cautious, low-key approach in testing and talking about autonomous vehicles after Uber crash.”

 

  • And there’s more about autonomous vehicles in this article:How AI Is Transforming The Next Generation Of Vehicles. “The headliner of this year’s CES in Las Vegas wasn’t the futuristic concepts of robocars. Instead, it was the production-ready technologies that will infuse AI into the next generation of cars for safer, more efficient driving in the near term.”

 

  • From the always astute Jordan Furlong, this pieceWhy law firms need to think differently – and smarter – about AI. “…(W)e need to go back to basics and deconstruct what we are trying to achieve with this technology, and why.”

 

  • This NYT story is thought provoking: How Do You Govern Machines That Can Learn? Policymakers Are Trying to Figure That Out. “The subject was artificial intelligence, and his students last week were mainly senior policymakers from countries in the 36-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

 

  • This ABA piece is a well-annotated deep dive into several of the big issues in legal AI: Pros and Pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence in IP and the Broader Legal Profession. “(S)trong and efficient practitioners must learn to harness the power of AI, but must be wary of overreliance on these technologies.”

 

Law firm posts (blockchain included):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • This is a large and useful post from Gibson Dunn: Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems Legal Update (4Q18).

 

  • Megan Seabourne of British law firm VWV, this postWould you trust a robot to write your will? “More than seven out of ten people would not want their will to be drafted using artificial intelligence (AI), according to VWV’s latest survey and as law firms are increasingly adopting AI in legal matters.”

 

  • Sunil Thacker senior partner at Dubai’s STA is heavily quoted in this pieceSpace, AI, renewable energy to get priority as sectors open for more foreign investment in 2019.

 

From Artificial Lawyer:

  • Artificial Lawyer Announces Launch of Legal Innovators Conference. Post here.

 

  • Neota Logic Partners With Actuate Law To Develop New Legal Tech Tools. Post here. More coverage here.

 

  • CLOC London – Getting To Grips With Data + Better Contracting. Post here.

 

  • M&A Due Diligence Will Get Much Faster – Survey by OCR Co. Merrill. Post here.

 

  • Law Company Elevate Buys Yerra Managed Legal Services Co. As M&A Binge Continues. Post here.

 

  • Mitratech Launches TeamConnect Essentials in Legal Ops Drive. Post here.

 

  • Disputly – Solving the Consumer Legal Challenge One App at a Time. Post here.

 

Press Releases and sponsored content:

  • From ThoughtRiverTurning The Future Vision Of The GC Into Today’s Reality. “Access our new eGuide to discover how automated contract pre-screening technology can transform the role of the GC’s team – and therefore business performance.” Release here.

 

  • Also from ThoughtRiver: Why has the legal profession been slow to embrace AI technology? Release here.

 

  • Actuate Law Debuts New Legal Tech Subsidiary, Quointec LLC. “Quointec will collaboratively build next-generation legal and compliance tools that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to provide clients with innovative and more cost-effective solutions.” Release here.

 

BLOCKCHAIN:

  • Here’s some news re blockchain payments: MIT, Stanford and others to build blockchain payments network to rival VisaNet: “Seven universities are collaborating to create a blockchain-based online payment system that will solve issues of scalability, privacy, security and performance, enabling up to 10,000 transactions per second.”

 

  • This, from MarketplaceThe blockchain is coming to Wall Street. “(F)uture ICOs and their digital coins might start to look a lot more like good old-fashioned stock, except traded on the blockchain. And that has big ramifications for Wall Street.”

 

  • Here are the findings of a statistically reliable survey: Deloitte’s 2018 Global Blockchain Survey: Blockchain Is “’Getting Closer To Its Breakout Moment’. “…(O)ut of all of the participants surveyed, 65% reported that their organization will invest $1 million or more in blockchain technology in the coming year. The enterprises with the largest investments will be coming from Mexico, France, and Canada respectively.”

 

  • Securitize To Join IBM’s Blockchain Accelerator To Modernize $82T Corporate Debt Market. Story here.

 

  • CanadianLawyer publishedBlockchain justice. “Crypto-currency and blockchain will increasingly be the subjects of litigation in Canada.”

 

  • Crude oil is about to be traded on a blockchain platform backed by five of the top 10 oil companies.Chevron, Total and Reliance Industries are backing VAKT, a digital platform for crude oil trading based on blockchain that launched late last year. They join a consortium of investors that includes BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor as well as traders Gunvor, Mercuria and Koch Supply & Trading.” Story here.

 

  • Speaking of oil & gas, here’s a piece that probably belongs above under AI, but here it is! The Incredible Ways Shell Uses Artificial Intelligence To Help Transform The Oil And Gas Giant.
  • Will an A.I. Ever Become Sentient? “The quest for artificial intelligence could yield something that not only out-thinks humanity but can also feel like us.” Interesting (long) post here.

 

  • Also from Medium: Artificial Intelligence, Consciousness and the Self. This one too is interesting but rather long.

 

  • Capital One AI chief sees path to explainable AI. “Nitzan Mekel-Bobrov, head of artificial intelligence work at card issuer Capital One Financial, disputes the notion deep learning forms of machine learning are “black boxes,” and insists sensitive matters such as decisions to assign credit can be made ‘much more interpretable’.” Story from ZDNet here.

 

  • Uber is getting back into the autonomous vehicle game. Coverage here and here.

 

  • Meanwhile, Kia is looking past vehicle autonomy to reading the driver’s state-of-mind: CES 2019: Kia prepares for post-autonomous driving era with AI-based real-time emotion recognition technology. Coverage here.

 

  • This 45-minute podcast is from   LawNext Episode 23: Dan Rodriguez on Innovating Law and Legal Education.

 

  • Here’s another rather lengthy thought piece from Mark A. CohenLaw Is Lagging Digital Transformation — Why It Matters.

 

  • Google is opening another AI lab, this one at Princeton. Coverage here and here.

 

  • Construction Dive postedThe Dotted Line: Mitigating the risks of technology. “It’s finally happening. Robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technology that has empowered a number of industries has undeniably made its way to construction sites. But with new tools come new risks and new ways to manage those risks.”

 

  • Google posted this update. If you’re generally following AI, it’s worth your time. “Six months ago we announced Google’s AI Principles, which guide the ethical development and use of AI in our research and products. As a complement to the Principles, we also posted our Responsible AI Practices, a set of quarterly-updated technical recommendations and results to share with the wider AI ecosystem. Since then we’ve put in place additional initiatives and processes to ensure we live up to the Principles in practice.” The text of the post isn’t what matters here, it’s the several links that provide what I consider best practices.

 

  • Jason Tashea of the ABA Journal postedCalifornia imposes new regulations on ‘internet of things’ devices. “…(M)anufacturers of connected devices will have to include ‘reasonable security’ features to protect stored or transmitted information from ‘unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure’.” More coverage of how California’s new data privacy law could change how companies do business in the Golden State here.

 

  • This is also from Jason Tashea at the ABA JournalAccess-to-justice gap? It’s the economy. “In November, the ABA published Formal Opinion 484. From the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, the opinion approves of some forms of attorney fee financing, believing that they can help close the access-to-justice gap, defined as those who need but can’t attain legal support.”

 

  • This vendor (VerbIT) is new to me. “A VerbIT transcription process starts with an adaptive AI engine that automatically transcribes content at very high accuracy, regardless of subject matter or accent. A sophisticated algorithm distributes each file through 2-layers of human transcribers within seconds, and checks for congruence, localized spelling and other common inaccuracies. The entire process is extremely fast, and yields +99% accuracy.”

 

Law Firm Posts

 

  • From Ropes & GrayPodcast: Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property Considerations. Sixteen-minute discussion of AI-driven technologies here.

 

 

  • How Fenwick Labs‘ Growth Is a Microcosm of Legal Tech’s Evolution. Post here.

 

 

 

  • This, is from Bruce Stachenfeld of Duval & Stachenfeld: Artificial Intelligence: Is It Really A Threat To Us Lawyers? “(S)omeday AI may have an impact on our profession that is more than automating drudge business, but in my view not yet, and not for a long while.”

 

  • Stewart A. Baker of Steptoe & Johnson LLP postedThe Cyberlaw Law Podcast: Blockchain Takes Over The Podcast. It’s a summary of this hour-long podcast.

 

 

  • Today’s release of the 2018 Blickstein Group Law Department Operations Survey Report reveals law departments are taking advantage of #newlaw options. Post here. I would evaluate the survey’s methodology, but to download the report one must agree to “you are opting in to receive Above the Law Sponsored Messages,” and I won’t.

 

Press Releases/Vendor Articles

  • Seal Software releases most comprehensive contract analytics platform for banks and financial services firms. Release here.

 

 

  • DFIN Elevates Artificial Intelligence Platform with Acquisition of eBrevia. Post here.

 

  • Ascertus Limited has achieved over 100% business growth in 2018, including head count and revenue. This growth has come equally from existing client retention and new business, which has been driven primarily by increasing interest in iManage Work cloud deployments as well as BusyLamp legal spend management implementations.” Post here.

 

  • Dean Sonderegger of Wolters Kluwer posted: New Year’s Resolutions For Legal Tech. “We’ve covered several different use cases for AI in this column — and while the technology holds tremendous potential, we know that there’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution for everyone and every challenge. As we continue to see new offerings enter the market, the professionals who have a clear understanding of their business will ultimately be successful in unlocking the value of these tools and driving innovation within their organizations.”

 

From Artificial Lawyer

  • The eBrevia/Donnelley Merger, Start of A Legal AI Consolidation Wave? Post here.

 

  • This is a guest post by Michael Burne, Founder and CEO, Carbon Law PartnersA New Year’s Evolution: Is the Traditional Law Firm Model Finished…? “Are traditional firms a busted flush? Well, if by traditional we mean ‘unwaveringly wedded to a construct in the face of rapid change’ – then yes. If we mean ‘a broad adherence to values and a purpose driven organisation’ – then no.”

 

  • 2019 Legal Tech Predictions from the Market. Post here. Leaders of vendors are a few law firms make their predictions.

 

  • This look back is especially blockchain-focused. Christmas News Stocking from Artificial Lawyer.

 

  • Artificial Lawyer Year in Review – 2018 – What a Year! Post here.

 

Blockchain

  • This is a good, brief overview by Thomson Reuters Legal: Blockchain and Its Implications within Legal.

 

  • “The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) announced Tuesday that it has launched a new industry specification group for blockchain.” Post here.

 

  • “Earlier this month, Malta held its blockchain conferenceDELTA Summit, attracting more than 3,500 industry experts and government officials. The Summit operates as a platform for investors and experts to share their experience and opinions, specifically on the controversially debated issue of regulation, with fellow entrepreneurs and investors of all ages.” LOTS of topics are covered in this post.

 

AI and Blockchain Prognostications and Looking Back (also see Artificial Lawyer above)

  • From Health IT SecurityBlockchain, HIPAA Regulation Lead Top 10 Stories of 2018. “(T)o get a sense of the topics that matter most to executive and clinical leadership, HealthITSecurity.com compiled the top stories from 2018. Here are the most read stories of 2019, leading down to the most popular article.”

 

  • This, from Medium: 2018 in Review: 10 AI Failures. Several are law-related.

 

  • Team Ripple posted this rather technical look back: 2018: The Year of Breakthroughs in Blockchain.

 

  • From iappTop 10 Privacy Perspectives of 2018.

 

  • The Big Four’s Big Year: Expansion, Immigration and Evaluation. “Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC all made moves in 2018 aimed at building their law practices.” You really should read this summary. It includes coverage of law firms hiring from the Big 4!

 

  • This is by Frank Ready of ALM: Blockchain Made Big Strides in the Legal Services Market During 2018.

 

  • Market intelligence firm Tractica posted: Artificial Intelligence Deployments Have Expanded to Include 258 Unique Use Cases Across Enterprise, Consumer, and Government Markets. “Annual Artificial Intelligence Software Revenue Will Total $8.1 Billion Worldwide in 2018.”

 

  • This commentary is from Information WeekPredictions for Artificial Intelligence in 2019. I found these especially interesting.

 

  • 5 Legal Tech Trends to Watch in 2019. This post is from Sysero.

 

  • From Rachel WolfsonBlockchain And Crypto Leaders Share Their 2019 Industry Predictions. This post isn’t very long and it’s quite interesting.

 

  • This one is from ComputerWorldBlockchain in 2019 and beyond: 5 predictions. “After a year where cryptocurrencies lost 80% of their value, and the hype around blockchain as a panacea for business transaction problems has cooled, 2019 will be a year of building real-world solutions.”

 

  • Crypterium posted this look ahead: 4 Major Blockchain Trends to Watch for in 2019. It’s short and straightforward.

 

  • IBM Artificial Intelligence Chief Shares His Predictions For 2019. 4-minute video here. Interesting thoughts re progress toward General AI.

 

  • A2J?This ‘Serial Entrepreneur’ Thinks Finding a Lawyer Can Be as Easy as Hailing an Uber. “For $20, Kevin Gillespie’s ‘Text A Lawyer’ service lets consumers send a legal question to a pool of lawyers to pick up for a response.” “…(W)hich will solely focus on landlord/tenant issues in Oregon and Washington during its beta launch. He said the platform is also trying to get ‘up and running for immigration issues,’ and plans to cover other areas like employment, traffic, cannabis, and civil rights.”

 

  • More about AI for smaller firms or corporate legal departments (SMEs):

– Baidu no-code EasyDL tool could democratize AI for small businesses, bridge talent gap. “Baidu announced the launch of Baidu Brain 3.0, a central platform that helps enterprises more quickly and easily adopt artificial intelligence (AI) solutions—with or without programming talent. Baidu Brain provides 110 AI technologies, including face recognition, natural language understanding, and video understanding—all of which are available via open APIs or SDKs, according to a press release. Businesses can also use the platform’s no-code tool called EasyDL to build custom machine learning models without the need for programming skills….” Details here.

From WoltersKluwerThe role of AI in your small legal department.

2018 Is The Year Of Artificial Intelligence Transformation From RPA To SMEs. “Xineoh … says it has developed a platform for predicting customer behaviour with AI ‘which allows businesses to out-predict their competition thus allowing them to maximize efficiency and customer satisfaction’.” “It’s a bold claim and one laser-focused on SMEs. Its so-called bespoke AI solutions on Xineoh’s platform can be implemented rapidly without the cost, complexity and consulting required by other methods.” More here.

 

  • It seems the ACC is getting involved in blockchain’s use in law. This is a solid discussion of smart contracts. Smart Contracts: The Shared Ledger That’s Set in Stone.

 

  • And speaking of blockchain, this post about Series LLCs brings up some interesting points about the relationship between smart contracts, blockchain and lawyers. Here’s the sort of things discussed:

“This ability to learn and react diminishes the need for regular human management. Contracts written onto a blockchain could allow artificial intelligences to auto-resolve disputes, easing the litigation burden on courts when computers start doing business with other computers. The ability to safely share information on a blockchain will also lighten the burden of business management, able to quickly access relevant data from business and industry partners as well as different hubs of the same company. In the future, the computers may even run businesses themselves with auto-learning algorithms.”

“The biggest challenge to LLCs looking to join the blockchain revolution of the future will be finding programmers talented enough to code smart contract management programs, and the careful drafting of the “contract” in computer code languages. It also provides a challenge to lawyers: If initial contracts are written by coders, and subsequent contracts are written by the technology itself, where do lawyers fit in?”

 

  • This is an interesting discussion of how Malta is becoming seriously friendly to blockchain — it’s not just a marketing gimmick. Among Blockchain-Friendly Jurisdictions, Malta Stands Out.

 

  • Here’s more about Norton Rose’s chatbot ‘Parker’. Chatbot aids firms’ privacy compliance by finding client exposures within data breach laws. “The launch of the bot continues the steady incursion of artificial-intelligence-powered software into the Canadian legal market. Parker, a computer program that simulates human conversation, will guide clients in determining their exposure and obligations under new data breach laws and new regulations that will come into effect on Nov. 1 under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).”

 

AndLogan Breed, a partner with Hogan Lovells’ Antitrust practice, sits down with Daniela Combe, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at IBM. They talk about the explosion of data, the emergence of AI and cognitive computing – and the evolving relationship between in-house and outside counsel. Listen to the audio here.”

 

  • From Artificial Lawyer, an interesting post about firms engaging multiple AI solutions and needing to integrate them and link databases. ‘More Law Firms Turning to More Than One AI Solution’ – HighQ

 

  • From Clifford ChanceClifford Chance launches two new innovation units: the next stage of the firm’s Best Delivery and Innovation strategy
  • Here’s some good news from North Carolina: North Carolina Bar considers requiring technology CLE credits. (Note the word “considers”.) “If adopted, the amendments will go into effect in 2019.” This is in response to “the American Bar Association … amendment to Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1 in 2012. The comment imposed an ethical duty on lawyers to stay abreast of changes in technology.” “…(I)n 2016, Florida became the first state to require that lawyers complete 3 credits of legal technology CLE per biennial cycle as part of their obligation to stay abreast of changes in technology.” No other state has yet done so.

 

  • Press release: “Every other week, the K&L Gates’ Blockchain Energizer will highlight emerging issues or stories relating to the use of blockchain technology in the energy space. To subscribe to the Blockchain Energizer newsletter, please click here.”

 

  • From Artificial LawyerSmart Contract Checker, Sagewise, Links with Hedera Hashgraph. The post includes an interesting and useful explanation of the smart contract (i.e., blockchain) technologies involved. “…(T)he Hedera Hashgraph platform provides, it says, ‘a new form of distributed consensus; [which is] a way for people who don’t know or trust each other to securely collaborate and transact online without the need for a trusted intermediary’.”

 

  • Regarding AI’s promise of “better, faster, cheaper,” check out this post from Artificial Lawyer regarding the “better” aspect. Casetext Survey Finds ‘Shocking’ Level of Missing Relevant Cases in US Courts.

 

  • Here comes a huge investment in AI and blockchain:

Coverage hereAnt Financial seals largest single fund raising round in history. “Eric Jing, executive chairman and CEO of Ant Financial, says: “…(T)he company will invest in developing its blockchain, AI, security, IoT and computing capabilities to upgrade its global technology platform for the next generation.”

And here: Jack Ma’s Chinese Fintech Firm Just Raised so Much Money It’s Now Worth More Than Goldman Sachs. “The round gives the Jack Ma-controlled company a valuation of $150 billion, which doesn’t just make it the most valuable privately-held tech firm in the world—the second-most-valuable, Uber, is worth around $70 billion—it even makes the Alibaba payment affiliate more valuable than financial veterans American Express (which has a market cap of $87 billion), Goldman Sachs ($88 billion), and Morgan Stanley ($92 billion.)” “The money will be used for international expansion, and for further investment in Ant’s technology—think blockchain, Internet of things, artificial intelligence and so on.”

 

  • From Robinson+Cole‘s Kathryn Rattigan: How Artificial Intelligence is Helping the Drone Industry. (It’s VERY brief.)

 

  • Here‘s a bit of a Friday thought piece for you (from LexisNexis’ Jeff Reihl and Rick McFarland via Law.com): Navigating the Fear and Promise of Artificial Intelligence. It’s a relatively brief but solid overview of AI in legal practice today. It’s positive about AI, but never really reaches a conclusion regarding the issue raised in the first paragraph: “… (S)ome have expressed fear that robot-lawyers will replace legal professionals.”
  • I’m sure you’ve seen this news: “First Fatal Accident Involving Autonomous Uber Car Raises Novel Legal Issues.”

 

  • It seems AI is getting better and better at using sentiment analysis and related technologies in recruiting. Here’s the latest from IBM.

 

  • From the Georgia State University Law School, this discussion of the use of AI-based evidence in court. “We’re talking about an area of law where there is very little precedent.” …. “If we commit to a system where AI is being used to help formulate a criminal sentence, we do in fact have an ethical obligation to share the foundation of that system with the very people whose lives are affected.”
  • The big accounting firms are generally faster than law firms to embrace new technologies, including AI, in their legal practices, so announcements like this by PwC should concern law firms.

 

  • From Quinn Emanuel, “International Arbitration and Artificial Intelligence: Time to Tango?” “Could the future of IA lie in AI? In this short post, I sketch possible ways in which AI-infused tools could help the international arbitration community provide greater value to stakeholders.” Several reasonable scenarios are put forth, but there’s a catch if the author is correct when he writes, “AI decisions must be explainable and cannot operate as a ‘black box’.”

 

  • From Norton Rose, this summary of the ethical and legal issues involving AI.

 

  • In this post, Freshfields explains how they leveraged AI tools from LEVERTON to facilitate a big real estate deal.

 

  • Here, from Artificial Lawyer and Seal Software is an explanation of the workings of Smart Contracts, and perhaps the next step in the evolution of contracts, “Intelligent Contracts.” (Smart Contracts 3.0?)

 

  • Also from Artificial Lawyer: “… Integra Ledger, has … announced the release of an Integra Wallet, which the company says is the first blockchain wallet developed specifically for the use of the global legal industry.”

 

  • From Asia, some disturbing thoughts about AI and the lack of US leadership, “President Donald Trump’s isolationist instincts mean the U.S., a traditional cheerleader for global cooperation, is making almost no effort to lead international efforts to think through AI’s future. Instead, AI’s global standards increasingly look set to be written behind closed doors in Silicon Valley and Beijing, leaving everyone else outside in the cold…. (S)o far neither the G-20 nor any other major international body has grappled with the problems raised by AI….”

 

 

  • More AI on the road, this time in Japan: “…starting next month, Nissan is trialing a fully driverless taxi service in Japan. Called Easy Ride, the service is essentially an AI-controlled version of a ride-hailing app like Uber.”

 

  • Here’s an interesting consumer-oriented use of legal AI. This “gizmo” designed by researchers from the Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, Switzerland, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan will read those user agreements you accept without reading and provide a “privacy policy analysis” (hence the name “Polisis“). I’m not sure how many folks will decide not to buy an iPhone because of a clause in the agreement, but at least they’ll know what they’re getting into. As you mouse over each word or phrase in the output, an explanation is provided (e.g., Apple’s “Cookies and Tracking Elements” above).

 

  • What do law firm Knowledge Managers want? According to a survey by Casetext, basically, automated data collection and structuring, and for AI to automatically translate that data into useful information. Details from Artificial Lawyer here.

 

  • From Artificial Lawyer: Lucy Bassli will be Chief Legal Strategist at Tel Aviv-based legal AI company LawGeex. She was previously in charge of contracting at Microsoft.

 

  • DLA Piper is at it again with yet another AI-focused podcast. This one is, “TechLaw Podcast: The disruptive impact of AI and automation technologies.”

 


For Your Home: Smart Speakers and Voice Assistants

I’ve been promising a review of the latest smart speakers and voice assistants. Now that I’ve spent a weekend with Apple’s new HomePod, it’s time. Skip to the bottom if you just want my recommendations.

As I posted and discussed in some depth back on January 15, I have been testing Apple’s Siri and HomeKit since they first appeared several years ago (I’m in Apple’s User Beta program), Alexa for almost a year and Google Home since November. My interest in home automation goes back to the early 1980s when I implemented several devices using the X10 protocol. We have certainly come a long way since my X10 days, not so much in terms of what can be done to automate a home, but in terms of external connectivity (i.e., Internet), reliability and ease of use.

Since that post back in January, I have added Alexa to my Prius via Roav’s VIVA, and as I mentioned, I finally have an Apple HomePod smart speaker. I have brought home, tested and returned (thank you Best Buy), the best speakers for Alexa and Google Assistant.

 

Voice Assistants

Note:

Microsoft slowly rolled out Cortana in 2015-2016, but I don’t consider it worth including here. I’m not sure Microsoft does either (at least not in your home) as several Microsoft devices have announced Alexa support.

There are several others (e.g., Samsung “Bixby“) that are either way behind technically or have very small market share, so I won’t go there.

 

It’s hard to believe but Siri first appeared on the iPhone 4S back in 2011. She has been part of our culture every since (Raj even got to meet her back in Season 5 of The Big Bang Theory). If you have an iPhone or iPad, I’ll assume you’re very familiar with her; if you’re not immersed in the Apple ecosystem she’s really not relevant. Siri is tightly integrated with iTunes, AppleTV and Apple Music.

I find Apple’s HomeKit, controlled by Siri to be the best home automation system. (More on that below.)

Siri has been around the longest, but is significantly less capable than Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home Assistant. For instance, Siri can only manage one timer at a time — a drawback when I’m preparing a big meal.

The next iOS release is scheduled to add several important features to Siri and the Apple home environment.

She (or a male voice for “he”) is activated by “Hey Siri.”

 

Amazon introduced Alexa in late 2014 along with its first Echo device. Alexa is relevant no matter what what sort of phone or tablet you use, and it supports a broad array of home automation devices (lights, switches, door locks, thermostats, blinds, garage doors, etc.). Alexa supports most music streaming services, if you’re using Amazon devices; otherwise, it gets limited and complicated. Check here for details. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber (and thus Audible and Prime Music), you’re all set. I use the Alexa app for iOS (i.e., Apple) devices. Alexa is tightly integrated with shopping via Amazon, and it can read your Kindle books to you.

You have four choices for activating Alexa: “Echo,” “Alexa,” “Amazon” or “Computer.” This is absolutely one of my favorite things about Alexa; I just love being to wake it up with, “computer.”

One other Alexa note: I’ve added Alexa in my car by means of a Roav VIVA. It’s a cool idea, but isn’t ready for prime time. It’s not great at listening, the connection is spotty, the commands are limited and you can’t wake it up with “computer.”

 

Google Assistant was introduced less than two years ago in mid-2016. It’s available on Android devices and there’s an Apple app for that. With a Chromecast dongle, you can control television programming somewhat like AppleTV, but the programming is not nearly as broad. Google Assistant is more conversational than Siri or Alexa. For instance (slightly shortened):

[Me] “Hey Google, let’s cook some roast chicken.”

[Google] “I have a recipe from Cooking NY Times. It takes about an hour to make. Shall we try it?”

[Me] “Yes.”

[Google] “Would you like to prepare the ingredients or skip to the instructions?”

And so on.

Shopping is available through third part retailers (e.g., Walmart, Target, Cosco, Home Depot) via the somewhat cumbersome “Google Express”.

If you have more than one Google Home device, you can use them as an intercom.

One of my favorite things about Google Assistant (unavailable with Alexa or Siri) is the ability to string together items to be read to you  (called “daily briefing”). For instance, when I enter my kitchen in the morning, I say “Hey Google, good morning,” and Google proceeds to give me a weather report, read whatever is on my calendar for the day, and read the latest news from my selected sources (i.e., NPR News Now, NPR Technology, BBC Minute, PBS Newshour Science and WSJ Tech News Briefing).

Google’s vast knowledge base makes Google Assistant much more capable than Siri or Alexa at answering random questions.

The wake up phrase for Goggle Assistant can be “Hey Google,” or “OK Google.”

 

All three will help you find your phone by calling it.

All three are good at home automation, but I give the edge here to Siri because of its greater security than the others (more on this below). But you are somewhat limited in hardware choices if you go with Apple as some manufacturers (e.g., Nest) don’t comply with Apple’s security requirements. I find I have all I need with Apple’s HomeKit and: August door locks, Philips light bulbs, WeMo and Lutron switches, Chamberlain garage door openers and ecobee thermostats. All of three assistants do “scenes.” For instance, when I wake up and say, “Hey Siri, good morning,” the lights in my bedroom come on low, the lights in my kitchen come on at 100%, and my thermostats go to my preferred daytime temperatures.

All three can use “geofencing” to trigger actions. For instance, when I leave the range of my WiFi, all lights in my home go out (except porches) and the thermostats go to their “unoccupied” setting. When I return to the range of my WiFi network, the thermostats go back to whatever’s normal for that time of day, and (if it’s between sunset and sunrise) one light comes on on each floor.

Google Assistant and Alexa can recognize different voices and respond appropriately, for instance, “play MY favorite songs.” Siri can’t.

All three voice assistants have many other capabilities (e.g., order a pizza, call Uber, or give you a weather report). All three are adding more capabilities almost every day. Alexa has by far the most capabilities (25,000+ “skills”), but I don’t consider this a big deal as most people focus on the same few tasks. According to research from Edison Research published by NPR last month, the most common tasks by daypart are:

 

Smart Speakers

Amazon and Google have several speaker options. The cheapest are Echo Dot ($50) for Amazon Alexa and Google Home Mini ($50) for Google Assistant. Both are frequently on sale. For their size and cost, both sound remarkably good and listen well. Get one for each of the rooms in which you spend the most time. Apple’s Siri only has the just-released HomePod ($350), but Siri is easily controlled by your iPhone or iPad, one of which is probably with you most of the time.

All are very easy to set up — HomePod is easiest.

If what you really care about is audiophile quality sound, the best speakers for Apple, Google or Alexa are not smart speakers. None of the smart speaker options available for any of the three come close sonically to the equipment you probably already have in your home. (For me, that’s a Pioneer Elite SC-95 receiver and Bowers & Wilkins 700 series speakers.) There is absolutely no comparison between a good traditional home sound system and any smart speaker. So, for optimal sound, use WiFi or Bluetooth to send music from your phone or tablet to your home theater or other serious sound system. I’ve found AppleTV the easiest way to do this in my environment.

If you want the best possible sound from a smart speaker, here are the best options:

Apple HomePod $350

This is easily your best sounding option across all three platforms, and it’s less expensive than the most expensive options from Google and Amazon (see below). I have been a serious audio junkie my whole life and this is the first speaker in decades to really “wow” me. It is amazing what you get in this small package at this price.

It’s only relevant if you’re ready for complete commitment to the Apple ecosystem, partly because of the $350 cost.

 

Alexa Echo Plus $179 (get a pair!) or Sonos Play:5 $499 (Alexa is built in)

Echo is the only smart speaker with a “line out,” enabling you to use the device to listen for your commands but use a much better sounding speaker for listening. (In my office I use a Bowers & Wilkins A7, $400.)

 

Google Home Max $399

This unit sounds very good, but not as good as the HomePod or Sonos Play:5. Again, if you really want great sound, no smart speaker comes anywhere close to what you may already have in your living room.

 

To my surprise, a recent survey reported that many Google and Amazon device owners plan to buy HomePods.

 

Security

One of the complaints about the Apple ecosphere is that products and services are introduced too slowly. This is largely because Apple has been so demanding regarding customer privacy — much more so than Google or Amazon. This security focus has not diminished, and I’m OK with it. When in doubt, I go with Apple because of these extra security measures.

You’ll find much more about security and some fun Easter eggs here.

 

The Future

This 38-minute podcast does a good job of predicting where smart homes are headed. (Spoiler alert: you’ll have a lot more time on your hands to be doing things you really want to do.)

Bottom Line Recommendations

It largely depends on your phone — and whether you’ll regularly be using your smart speaker for music.

If you’re an iPhone person, stick with Siri in your pocket or plugged in. Get the HomePod if you’ll be using the voice assistant for music. I expect that Siri will catch up to the Google and Alexa assistants regarding the most important capabilities. Until it does, add a couple of Google Home Minis ($40 on sale) in the rooms where you spend most of your time. (This is because the Google Assistant is so much better at general inquiries.)

If you use Amazon Music, get an Echo Dot and connect it to a good speaker. Or get a Sonos speaker with Alexa built in. It’s probably worth also getting a couple of Google Home Minis for the rooms where you spend most of your time.

Otherwise, if you have a streaming music service (e.g., Spotify, Slacker, Pandora), go with Google. Get one of their speakers and Chromecast ($35) to connect to your TV. If your TV is connected to some really good speakers, this will be excellent for music too.

 

These cartoons from the Marketoonist summarize pretty well where we are today with this tech. For instance:

  • Benelux law firm Stibbe has posted a piece on “the impact of new technologies on our society and on how lawyers should be part of the innovation.” It includes discussion of: use of blockchain in trials, AI in the practice of law, and the need to teach lawyers about tech. Here’s a notable excerpt: “Lawyers need to do some really fundamental thinking about how these technologies will impact us as a society, and as lawyers.” “Private practice lawyers are well-placed to get involved because that is where the innovation first lands, as a file on a lawyer’s desk.”

 

  • This article argues that AI will disrupt the legal space in India, both the ‘bar’ (lawyers) and the ‘bench’ (judges). The arguments are applicable across boundaries, but with varying degrees of emphasis (e.g., India’s Supreme Court is extraordinarily backed up). The basic AI functions that will be relevant are: legal research, predictive analytics and visualization, and law office management. The authors caution lawyers to assess the situation and prepare for the “AI age.” Chatbots are mentioned, which leads me to…

 

  • A lot of what’s being forecast for 2018 centers on Chatbots (e.g., this from the WSJthis from Inc. and this from the UAE’s The National). This is a good update on consumer voice assistants (“The average number of connected devices (outside the usual suspects of phones, computers and laptops) has increased to 4.4 per person.” Wow.). According to Venture Beat, “This year, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon all leaned into messaging and conversation. In 2018, (they) will make conversational AI the main gateway to communicate with the customer.” Here’s a case study of a family’s relationship with Alexa. And here, Business World predicts that “voice-powered assistants” will be one of the top three AI advances in 2018.

 

  • Here’s McKinsey’s take on AI today and in the future. Bottom line: we’re early in AI’s evolution; companies should prepare their workforces for the entry of AI (including hiring data science talent); and it’s all about the data, so start getting yours in order.

 

  • Here are PwCs predictions for 2018’s top AI trends. It’s all pretty behind-the-scenes technical stuff. The one most relevant to law is “Explainable AI: understanding the black box.” “Explainable AI is a movement to develop machine learning techniques that produce more explainable models while maintaining prediction accuracy.”

 

  • More prognostications for 2018 law and tech are in this podcast from Law.com in which Ben Hancock interviews “The Recorder” bureau chief, Ross Todd. The discussion focuses on Uber vs. Waymo, cryptocurrencies, surveillance and Google vs. Oracle.

 

  • Just to keep things in perspective, “a Stanford-led team has launched the first index to track the state of artificial intelligence and measure technological progress in the same way the GDP and the S&P 500 index take the pulse of the U.S. economy and stock market.” As of today, ““AI has made truly amazing strides in the past decade, but computers still can’t exhibit the common sense or the general intelligence of even a 5-year-old.”

 

  • And finally, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the vast range of applications of AI, but better/safer bricklaying had not come to mind.
  • eDiscovery for audio and video files: “The MCS Group is one of the latest companies to partner with Veritone to revolutionize the legal industry by adopting its innovative and unique AI-based processing and search technology to afford a secure, scalable and cost-effective platform for enriching and managing audio and video data in litigation discovery and compliance processes.”

 

  • Is AI Sci-Fi? Some folks I talk with still believe AI is something in the future — maybe. A good example of how it’s here, now, is autonomous vehicles. The Tesla 3 is a radical revolution in driver (user) interface. It’s all about the passenger (not driver) experience. Meanwhile Uber has self-driving vehicles on the road, and Waymo’s vehicles are driving around Phoenix with no one in the driver’s seat, no one, now.

 

  • More automotive AI news: “As part of the tie-up between the two firms, Google will provide VW with access to devices that process information by using the principals of quantum mechanics. Before reaching an agreement with Google, Volkswagen used quantum computing in March to optimize traffic for 10,000 taxis in Beijing.”

 

  • “The Digital Finance Institute, a leading think tank in financial innovation and technology, is holding the AI World Forum conference on artificial intelligence and machine learning in Toronto from November 27-28, 2017. Details here.