Benjamin Alarie, a law professor at the University of Toronto, was startled to learn, two years ago, that the school’s computer science students planned to “disrupt” his lucrative, centuries-old profession with artificial intelligence, or AI. But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Now he’s leading the march of the machines into oak-panelled law offices right across the country—no doubt to the chagrin of thousands of lawyers (and perhaps a few former students) whose jobs could soon be at risk.
In addition to his professorial duties, Alarie spent the past 24 months building a “legal tech” startup that uses machine learning technologies—sophisticated algorithms capable of doing tasks for which they haven’t been specifically programmed—to predict how courts are likely to rule on new tax cases. That startup, Blue J Legal, which Alarie founded along with two other U of T law profs and a former IBM software developer, boasts that its Tax Foresight tool yields results that are more than 90 per cent accurate. “It’s like a flight simulator for new tax law cases,” says Alarie, who is also the firm’s CEO.