At the very start of my career at the Boeing Company, my boss Jerry introduced the Knowledge Pyramid the DIKW Pyramid to me one evening. I had an insatiable thirst for learning and he would spend hours introducing me to ideas he thought I could benefit from. To me, this was a profound bit of learning that would somewhat shape my career.
At the time, I was working in CAD support, introducing automation technologies to the various engineering project’s around the Boeing Aerospace division. The new CAD tools were running on expensive engineering workstations and were replacing largely homegrown minicomputer software from the 1970’s.
Jerry explained to me that the legacy software, largely batch tools, that crunched data manually input from drawings represented the data layer. The CAD drawings our tools produced actually represented a digital representation of the designs with sufficient information for both detailed analysis and manufacturing. It would take a generation of new technologies to advance from one layer to the next in the DIKW pyramid — with each generation lasting from ten to twenty years. His interest was in accelerating that pace and so we studied, as part of our R&D budget, artificial intelligence, expert systems, language-based design techniques, and design synthesis.
While data was all about crunching numbers, information was all about understanding the meaning of the data. Knowledge came from being able to use the information to synthesize (Jerry’s favorite topic) new information and to gain understanding. And finally, wisdom came from being able to work predictively based on that understanding.
When I was introduced to legal informatics in the year 2000, it was a bit of a time warp to me. While the CAD world had advanced considerably and even design synthesis was now the norm, legal informatics was stuck in neutral in the data processing world of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mainframe tools, green screen editors, and data entry was still the norm. It was seeing this that gave me the impetus to work to advance the legal field. The journey I had just taken in the CAD world of the prior 15 years was yet to be taken in the legal field. The transition into information processing was to start with the migration to XML — replacing the crude formatting oriented markup used in the mainframe tools with modern semantic markup that provided for a much better understanding of the meaning of the text.
To say the migration to the future has gone slowly would be an understatement. There are many reasons why this has happened:
- The legacy base of laws have to be carried along — unchanged in virtually every way. This would be like asking Boeing to advance their design tools while at the same time requiring that every other aircraft design ever produced by the company in the prior century also be supported. For law, it a necessary constraint, but also a tremendous burden.
- The processes of law are bound by hard-to-change traditions, sometimes enshrined by the constitution of that jurisdiction. This means the tools must adapt more to the existing process than the process can adapt to the tools. Not only does this constraint require incredibly adaptable tools, it is very costly and dampers the progress that can be made.
- The legal profession, by and large, is not technology driven and their is little vision into what can be. The pressure to keep things as they are is very strong. In the commercial world, companies simply have to advance or they won’t be competitive and will die. Jurisdictions aren’t in competition with one another and so the need to change is somewhat absent.
For advancements to come their needs to be pressure to change. Some of this does come naturally — the hardware the old tools run on won’t last forever. New legislators entering into their political careers will quickly be frustrated by the archaic paper-inspired approach to automation they find. For instance, viewing a PDF on a smartphone is not the best user experience. It is that smartphone generation that will drive the need to change.
Over the next few blogs, I’m going to explore where legal informatics is on the DIKW pyramid and what advancements on the horizon will move us up to higher levels. I’ll also take a look at new software technologies that point the way to the future — for better or worse.