Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Microsoft/Legal Aid Tech/Voice-Response Portals



There is so much to this story I couldn’t really write a title that reflected all of the exciting news.  We learned that Microsoft is currently investing in applying their new AI enabled voice-response technology to the problem of legal aid for the disadvantaged.  They have engaged with our friends and experts in the subject at the Legal Services Corporation and Probono.net. Much more below...





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An interesting ABA Journal article titled “Legal Services Corp., Microsoft plan voice-response portals for legal advice” by Richard Acello brought the project to our attention.  The article explains that:
“Microsoft is investing $1 million into a program partnership with the Legal Services Corp. and Pro Bono Net to develop web portals to access legal aid information. The funds cover the technology, implementation costs and services, which the LSC is hoping to have available by the second half of 2018. 
 In April, the LSC announced that legal aid assistance programs in Alaska and Hawaii were selected as state pilot programs because of their track records in meeting civil legal needs and their geographies, which pose challenges in the traditional delivery of legal services.”
The article further explains:
“The hope is that the portals can be one-stop shopping.
“Right now, the whole legal aid landscape is very fragmented, by state, by county, by court, by family law court,” says Dave Heiner, deputy general counsel at Microsoft and chairman of the board of Pro Bono Net. “There are a lot of legal aid organizations to help you, and some of the ways you can get a lawyer are automated, while others aren’t.” 
“The next great step forward is natural language,” Heiner adds. “Just speak and have the computer understand the meaning of the words, like Alexa [Amazon] and Siri [Apple]. So it might be something like ‘I’m being evicted from my apartment; what should I do? 
“The system will ask appropriate questions, like ‘Why didn’t you pay the rent?’ And the user would say, ‘The landlord didn’t provide heat.’”

We wrote to our friends at Probono.net and, Liz Keith, Program Director, provided this additional update:
“Microsoft, Pro Bono Net and LSC convened day-long project kick-off meetings with the state partners and justice community stakeholders in Anchorage in August and Honolulu in September. The meetings were co-hosted locally by the Alaska Court System and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. The goal of the meetings was to solicit feedback on the Portal vision from a broad cross-section of the justice community, and to surface any unique challenges or opportunities about the service delivery environment in each state.” 
“The meetings also included a session focusing on Microsoft's Inclusive Design methodology, which is being adapted for user studies taking place this fall to inform the Portal requirements. Project partners will provide an update and share key findings from the user studies at a workshop at the upcoming LSC Innovations in Technology Conference in New Orleans in January.
Last, here is a link to an article about Microsoft Research’s announcement on “reaching human parity on the Switchboard conversational speech recognition system” and a link to their technical report on the subject.

These are very exciting times that we live in where technology can help to bridge communications barriers not with a web interface, but by talking with people.

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