When AI Goes Wrong: A Lawyer's Botched Use of ChatGPT in Court

Montague Law

In the arena of litigation, where the stakes are often high and the margin for error is slim, a legal practitioner, Mr. Steven A. Schwartz, embarked upon an unconventional path in a personal injury lawsuit. He had decided to entrust his case to the artificial intelligence chatbot known as ChatGPT. This intersection of law and technology occurred in the dense urban confines of Manhattan, where in the unforgiving realm of federal court, Mr. Schwartz represented a man seeking damages from Avianca Airlines after a reported incident with a serving cart in 2019.

Mr. Schwartz, in his endeavor to leverage this advanced technology, fell prey to a pitfall unforeseen by many. The ChatGPT system, renowned for its prowess in text generation, regrettably furnished six non-existent cases within the legal filing. The unsuspecting lawyer had engaged in dialogue with the AI, inquiring as to the veracity of these cases, only to receive an affirmation from the seemingly sentient software.

The revelation of the inaccuracy came to light when the representatives of Avianca Airlines drew attention to the fabricated cases in a subsequent filing. This realization prompted Mr. Schwartz to confront the harsh reality of his technological blunder. Whether the accountability lies with the human error of reliance on the machine, or the machine's inability to discern fact from fiction, remains a topic of discussion.

Judge P. Kevin Castel, who presides over this tangled legal proceeding, has scheduled a hearing on June 8, as reported by the New York Times. This unfortunate incident has left the court in a state of disquiet, the resolution of which is awaited with bated breath.

To fully appreciate the extent of this incident, one must understand the origins and functioning of ChatGPT. This AI chatbot, launched in 2022, forms a part of the emerging breed of generative AI technologies capable of engaging users in extensive, seemingly organic conversations. The ability of this technology to produce conversation mimicking human-like intelligence has brought about an air of mystique around it, with users often attributing independent thought to the AI, when in fact, it is far from attaining such a capability. You can read more about this in our in-depth article on the history of AI.

The pervasive use of this technology, despite its widely-known inaccuracies, can be seen in various domains, from children seeking assistance in writing school assignments to professionals integrating it into their work processes. OpenAI, the developers behind ChatGPT, offer a service to detect the usage of the AI, but its success rate stands merely at 20%, leaving a large scope for discrepancies.

The deployment of AI technology, while transformative, raises profound questions regarding its unchecked adoption and utilization. Notions of AI rebellion, as depicted in dystopian films, have seeped into the collective consciousness, prompting figures like Elon Musk to propose a pause in the development of AI, a sentiment rooted possibly in the competitive landscape of AI chatbot development.

Yet, the concern might not be the rise of sentient machines. Instead, it's the potential for humans to blindly accept what these machines present. These chatbots, much like ChatGPT, are essentially sophisticated predictive text tools that focus on speed over accuracy, often manufacturing sources and facts that do not exist. Thus, the true threat of AI may not reside in a sentient uprising but rather in the unvetted acceptance of the information they generate.

The allure of this new generation of tech tools is undeniable. They promise a seamless integration of AI into our daily lives, but they care little for the truth. These are not the trusted repositories of information that Google or Wikipedia have become, but rather platforms designed to impress with linguistic prowess. As we tread further into this brave new world of AI, it is incumbent upon us to exercise discernment and critical thinking. The onus rests with us, as end-users, to differentiate between credible information and the AI's crafted illusions of factuality. While we grapple with the convergence of technology and law, we must remain vigilant of the potential pitfalls that such experimentation may bring.

Indeed, the use of AI in legal practice is not without its merits. When employed judiciously, it can expedite the process, enhance productivity, and even provide nuanced insights that might escape the human mind. But as demonstrated by Mr. Schwartz's predicament, it is not without its drawbacks, and a cautious approach is warranted.

AI, in its present state, cannot be the silver bullet solution for the complexities of the legal profession. It lacks the discernment of the trained human mind and the rigor of legal expertise. Thus, despite their sophistication, they are no match for human intelligence, intuition, and ethical considerations.

As we look ahead, it is clear that our relationship with AI will continue to evolve. Its role in our personal and professional lives will likely expand, but we must not lose sight of the need for a symbiotic relationship between human oversight and AI capabilities.

In conclusion, this unprecedented incident in Manhattan federal court serves as a sobering reminder of the challenges and complexities of integrating AI into the legal profession. It underscores the need for a measured approach, and most importantly, it reminds us of the value of human expertise and discretion, which even the most advanced AI technology cannot replicate.

By John Montague

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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