WolframAlpha and Legal Questions

[NOTE: Updated on 5-19-2009 to add link to summary of discussion of this topic; and on 5-17-2009 to encourage readers to report results in comments section and to join in Law Library Ning Forum discussion.]

Many in the legal informatics community are eagerly awaiting the debut of WolframAlpha, described in a May 12 post on the Chronicle’s Wired Campus, with links to video and other articles.

The reason is that WolframAlpha will inevitably receive legal questions, and many AI & Law researchers and law librarians, and possibly a few lawyers and judges, are most curious to see how well the new tool answers them. WolframAlpha may be the highest-profile legal expert system yet devised. Legal informatics folks will likely test the system heavily at first. If you are testing WolframAlpha respecting law-related questions, please feel free to report your results in the comments section of this post. And please join us over at the Law Library Ning Forum for discussion of WolframAlpha & legal research. Here is a summary of our discussion of this topic.

If WolframAlpha continues to handle legal questions in the long-term, testing its response to those questions may become a new specialty in legal informatics systems evaluation, much as testing Google Scholar is now a niche in the information retrieval field.Up

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6 Responses to WolframAlpha and Legal Questions

  1. Rob Richards says:

    I’ve done four tests so far. As of 5-17-09, I’ve asked the following legal questions of W/A: (1) What is the rule against perpetuities? (2) What is the statute of frauds in the uniform commercial code? (3) What is the statute of limitations for murder in Pennsylvania? and (4) If I am a director of a Delaware corporation, can my liability for breach of duty of care be limited? In each case, W/A answered: “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”

  2. legalinformatics says:

    On 5-18-2009, I tried the four questions listed above on Google. For questions (1), (2), and (4), the first document in the Google results list contained the correct answer. For question (3), the second document in the Google results list contained the correct answer.

    On 5-18-2009, I also sought answers to the four questions listed above on Wikipedia, by removing the first three words of questions (1), (2), and (3), and the first four words of question (4). Wikipedia furnished a correct answer for question (1), but no answers for questions (2), (3), and (4).

  3. Rob Richards says:

    Jim Milles referred us to Greg Lambert’s post: http://bit.ly/126nkZ : “For Legal Research, however, WolframAlpha just isn’t ready for that” — Rob Richards

  4. Ramona Martinez says:

    I tried asking What are the trends in litigation against credit card companies and got the same “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.” response. You can, however, enter a ticker symbol and get all kinds of financial data. I got lots of stuff on MasterCard and American Express but Wolfram Alpha does not recognize V as Visa’s ticker symbol for some reason. Litigation information is not included in the results anyway.

  5. Theresa Strike says:

    The article at http://news.cnet.com/wolfram-alpha-shows-data-in-a-way-google-cant/ gives a good comparison between what Google and Wolfram can do. Among some of the key implications of the article is that, first, the information is almost completely technical and geared towards the numbers-oriented mind set and, second, related to that mindset, it’s apparently picky in its syntax, which reduces its usefulness for the average user.

  6. Rob Richards says:

    Here is Dan Giancaterino’s view: http://tinyurl.com/q7bt9m

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