The Power of Mathematica

Stephen Wolfram explains why law students should be learning programming as well as computer science. His blog post is a must read. See Talking About Computational Future at SXSW 2013.

“So we’re slowly moving toward people being educated in the kind of computational paradigm. Which is good, because the way I see it, computation is going to become central to almost every field. Let’s talk about two examples—classic professions: law and medicine. It’s funny, when Leibniz was first thinking about computation at the end of the 1600s, the thing he wanted to do was to build a machine that would effectively answer legal questions. It was too early then. But now we’re almost ready, I think, for computational law. Where for example contracts become computational. They explicitly become algorithms that decide what’s possible and what’s not.

You know, some pieces of this have already happened. Like with financial derivatives, like options and futures. In the past these used to just be natural language contracts. But then they got codified and parametrized. So they’re really just algorithms, which of course one can do meta-computations on, which is what has launched a thousand hedge funds, and so on.

Well, eventually one’s going to be able to make computational all sorts of legal things, from mortgages to tax codes to perhaps even patents. Now to actually achieve that, one has to have ways to represent many aspects of the real world, in all its messiness. Which is what the whole knowledge-based computing of Wolfram|Alpha is about.

I have spent the last couple hours reading about Mathematica 9 and am extremely impressed. The fact that I had no idea this program existed or what it is capable of until today made me realize two important things. First, I do not talk to enough computer scientists. I am ashamed of going through 4 years of undergrad and 2.5 years of law school without learning about this. Second, many of the non-lawyers who are using Mathematica don’t understand how widely applicable the technology underlying it is. They don’t realize that this technology can do more than help them solve math problems.

These two facts suggest something that should have been obvious a long time ago. Lawyers need to learn more about technology and non-lawyer computer scientists need to show lawyers what modern technology is capable of doing. Most lawyers do not know programming. However, I am confident that most lawyers can identify how computers/technology can be used to solve legal problems once they have a better understanding of what modern computers are capable of doing. The problem is that (with some key exceptions) lawyers are not talking to computer scientists and computer scientists are not talking to lawyers.

I highly encourage everyone to check out the Mathematica 9 website. – Wolfram/Mathematica 9  Seeing what is possible has helped me think of several potential applications/products that would help me practice law more effectively.

Disruptive Legal

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