Artificial Intelligence

AI is the New ATM, But is AGI the New “Skynet”? We Think Not

artificial general intelligence
Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

We wrote a piece recently called “AI is merely the new ATM”. In response to all the fear that’s been stirred up about an AI-fuelled “robot apocalypse”, it offers reassurance that AI is really no cause for alarm.

But just as we are getting comfortable with the idea that AI is here to stay, there are rumours of another profound – and to some, troubling – related breakthrough:  It’s called “Artificial General Intelligence” (AGI).  It’s that “general” part that’s causing alarm for some.

So let’s break it down, and then consider what it might means to Family Law.

First, we’ve all heard that AI has been used in many staggeringly creative ways to help Family Lawyers – and by extension, their Family law clients – with the tasks that make litigation costly, time consuming, and frustrating.  For example, it can help lawyers with their document review, data analysis, case management, legal research, drafting, contract analysis, and e-discovery. The list is truly endless, because AI is always improving, and increasing its capacity to efficiently take on new tasks.

And that brings us to AGI.  ChatGPT defines it as:

“highly autonomous systems that have the capacity to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks at a level comparable to human intelligence. Unlike narrow or specialized AI, which is designed for specific tasks (like image recognition or language translation), AGI is envisioned to possess general cognitive abilities, allowing it to excel in diverse activities without being explicitly programmed for each one.”

It’s that “general cognitive abilities” part that is causing all the stir.  Because in plain English, it translates to the possibility that machine will have human-like cognitive abilities.  This includes problem-solving, reasoning, and learning from experiences – just like actual human beings.

And of course the corollary fear is that AGI will enable machines to become smarter that human beings – and thus a potential threat to our very existence.

A recent article in Forbes compares AGI to “Skynet”, which is the fictional, human-created machine network that serves as the villain in The Terminator series of movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  After the machine becomes self-aware, it sets out to destroy humanity – in the kind of storyline that strikes even more fear in the hearts of those who are already wary of technology.

That same article discuses the looming prospect of AGI, and notes that some technology visionaries predict it could be less than 20 years from becoming an everyday reality.  Others are less optimistic on the timelines, but still assure us that’s somewhere on the near horizon.

Fortunately, even as the AI/AGI drumbeat is getting louder, the tech world is careful not to say anything that prematurely sounds the alarm.  One software engineer at Google was even fired recently for making the false claim that an AGI-driven system under development was actually “sentient”.  That’s a weighty, terrifying word for those who fear a machine uprising.

But whether it’s claims of machines being “sentient”, or the less intimidating term “general intelligence”, we think this all just smacks of hyperbole and fear-mongering.  From the vantage-point of Family Law specifically, we reject any cause for alarm.

We’ve already compared AI to once-new technology that we’ve now gotten used to.  For example, it was not too long ago that people feared being exposed to theft and privacy breaches when using ATMs and cloud storage; now we can’t imagine living without them.

We think AGI will be no different.

In fact, we greatly look forward to all the ways that AGI will help us in the practice of Family Law in the not-too-distant future.  It will add more value to lawyers and clients who must navigate the complexities of the Family Law justice system.

For one thing, AGI will adapt itself to complicated law-related tasks. This means that it may possibly be able to give legal advice, opinions and strategy.  Importantly, it will also further enhance those nuanced tasks that are currently considered the exclusive domain of experienced Family Lawyers, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Trust
  • Experience
  • Objectivity
  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Leadership

But with this list in mind, we sit firm in the knowledge that AI and AGI-driven systems can only augment – but never fully replace – all the services and nuanced interactions that Family Lawyers provide to their clients when championing their legal issues.  These “softer skills” are the irreplaceable elements of humanity that no machine will ever be able to convincingly replicate.

Moreover, as with prior technological developments, we trust that humans will continue to have the foresight to adapt AGI with appropriate caution, and with safeguards in place.  We know this will be true even when those advancements unfold at a breakneck pace, and in surprising ways.

In other words:  We’ve got this.

Stay in Touch

Keep learning about the latest issues in Ontario family law! Subscribe to our newsletter, have our latest articles delivered to your inbox, or listen to our Podcast Family Law Now.

Be sure to find out more about the "new normal", by visiting our Covid-19 and Divorce Information Centre.

About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.