A few years ago, my father fell ill. A nurse entered the room and meticulously checked off items on a checklist. Curious, I asked her about the checklist. With a warm smile, she replied, “A checklist is how you show you care in critical situations.”
I immediately recognized the importance of systems thinking in every critical scenario. Just as a checklist ensured the nurse addressed the essential aspects of my father’s care, lawyers can apply systems thinking principles to help ensure AI’s responsible adoption and use.
Applying systems thinking to AI means taking a holistic and comprehensive approach to your company’s development, implementation, and management of AI systems. Leading this initiative is a natural role for lawyers because, as companies expand their use of AI, lawyers evolve into architects of AI-driven processes and guardians of responsible AI use. Here are four ways to apply systems thinking to AI:
Understanding The Business Context
You already understand your organization’s unique legal needs and challenges concerning its industry, regulatory environment, and strategic growth objectives. That means you’re well suited to align AI initiatives with broader organizational goals.
Systems thinking offers an expansive view that helps you identify areas where AI can provide the most value. You’re best positioned to 1) consider the interdependencies of various components, stakeholders, and processes involved in AI systems and 2) develop a framework to consider the long-term implications and trade-offs associated with various choices in AI adoption.
Drafting AI Policies And Guidelines
Systems thinking lets you break AI adoption into manageable components and understand their relationships. With a clear picture of how different pieces interact and impact each other, you can identify potential bottlenecks, dependencies, and feedback loops affecting AI systems’ performance or ethical considerations. As a result, you can optimize the use of AI tools for maximum efficiency.
This knowledge also allows you to create helpful policies and guidelines to govern the use of AI. This involves outlining the principles for responsible AI deployment, data governance practices, transparency requirements, and mechanisms for addressing biases or errors.
Educating Employees, Executives, And Board Members
Systems thinking encourages a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation. You can also advocate for training and education that ensures employees, executives, and board members understand the company’s AI policies and guidelines. Raise awareness about legal risks, promote ethical decision-making in AI applications, and foster a culture of responsible AI use at all levels of the organization.
Ensuring Responsible Use And Regulatory Compliance
As an ethical guardian of AI systems, you will advise department leaders on compliance requirements, help adapt AI systems accordingly, and stay updated on evolving regulations related to AI across jurisdictions.
Systems thinking reveals where to implement safeguards and controls to mitigate risks from potential issues related to bias, fairness, privacy, security, and compliance. This knowledge enables you to analyze AI’s impact on client confidentiality, data protection, intellectual property rights, accountability, and more as you navigate legal risks and ensure compliance.
Checklists Will Be Appreciated!
Systems thinking helps you leverage the benefits of AI while upholding legal and ethical standards. By viewing AI as part of a more extensive, interconnected system, you can optimize its use, enhance decision-making processes, and address ethical considerations. This is how you play a critical role in ensuring that AI is implemented in ways that are safe, fair, and beneficial to society.
Olga V. Mack is a Fellow at CodeX, The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, and a Generative AI Editor at law.MIT. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat, Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security, and Blockchain Value: Transforming Business Models, Society, and Communities. She is working on three books: Visual IQ for Lawyers (ABA 2024), The Rise of Product Lawyers: An Analytical Framework to Systematically Advise Your Clients Throughout the Product Lifecycle (Globe Law and Business 2024), and Legal Operations in the Age of AI and Data (Globe Law and Business 2024). You can follow Olga on LinkedIn and Twitter @olgavmack.