In 2019, Manchester law firm Bott and Co teamed up with The University of Manchester to launch a ground breaking artificial intelligence (AI) project as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).
In an industry as complex as the legal sector and an age of artificial intelligence, the firm is delving deep into disruptive technologies and using automation as part of their commitment towards improving their client services and ensuring their customer journey is as seamless as possible.
Fast forward one year and just under half way into the 30-month project and the partnership has already enabled the firm to enhance its processes and paved the way for a smooth transition into new areas of consumer law.
Meet KTP associate Minh-Quoc Nghiem, the post graduate who has been working full time within the law firm’s software development team, and who’s shown there’s a human side behind AI.
Minh hit the ground running, getting stuck into embedding a state-of-the-art platform for legal text mining and predictive modelling. But there’s more to him than meets the eye. Here, we get to know what makes the man behind the machine tick.
What led you to want to study Tech and AI?
I have always been a science fiction fan since I was a child. It’s all because of a Japanese manga named “Doraemon”. It’s a story about a cat robot who came from the future to help a clumsy boy.
Growing up, when I did housework such as cleaning, cooking, washing or dishwashing, I always wanted to have a robot doing the work for me.
I chose to study Tech because I wanted to realise those things.
Cleaner robots, rice cookers, washers, dishwashers are common nowadays. But we don’t have a robot for anything. For example, writing or drawing (the creative work), because the computer can’t understand and think like humans. AI can help us get there.
Tell us a bit about your study journey so far?
I did my PhD in Tokyo at Sokendai, it’s located within the National Institute of Informatics. After I took my PhD, I worked for the University of Science for three and a half years and then I worked for Manchester University for two years before I started working with Bott and Co.
The reason I went to Japan for my PhD is that Japan is one of the leading countries in automation and robotics. At that time, the ASIMO robot was very hot (it can walk, run and talk). Remember the “Doraemon” manga I mentioned earlier? It’s from Japan.
How did life in Manchester differ from your home country of Vietnam?
Very different. We have four seasons here in Manchester: spring, summer, fall and winter. In Vietnam, we only have two: hot and hotter.
In Vietnam we could enjoy hot climate foods such as rambutans, mangoes and lychee but it is hard to do that here. Instead, we can enjoy cold climate food such as strawberries and salmon.
Believe it or not, traffic is way better in Manchester than in Vietnam. I have heard colleagues complaining about the traffic but if they come to Vietnam someday, they will never complain about the traffic again!
What have been your biggest struggles studying and working abroad?
Friends and family. It was easy to meet them when I was in Vietnam but now I can only meet them using online video chat. I have my small family with me the whole time. It’s definitely better than living alone.
What do you enjoy most about AI?
Human intelligence is better than AI (especially in creative tasks) but AI systems never get tired. They can do the same (boring) tasks over and over again without getting bored or tired. Imagine you have to do an easy task 10,000 times over, AI will beat you no matter what.
How do you keep your skills current?
I continue to study every day. One of my favourite websites is Coursera. Here we can learn thousands of courses in various subjects for free. I also use a software called Anki to retain what I have learned. It’s a program which makes remembering things easy by using spaced repetition. Anki in Japanese means “learn by heart”.
Name three gadgets you couldn’t live without?
First, the computer, I do most things on here. Second, the broadband line to connect with the world. Third, the dishwasher, without it I have to clean up after every meal at home.
What are the three best things about Artificial Intelligence?
First, they are quick. Second, they are tireless. Third, they improve themselves every day.
What was the most fascinating thing you ever learnt?
It’s “deep learning”. Before deep learning, AI used patterns to recognise/classify things based on hand-crafted features (for example, if we want to recognise the part of speech of a word in a sentence, we need to put in features like “word before”, “word after”, “part of speech of the previous word”) but after deep learning, AI systems can learn to find these features by themselves.
What project are you most proud of?
My very first one when I was an undergraduate student. I wrote a program to instruct the Braille printer to print Vietnamese Braille documents. Blind people cannot read the ink characters printed on normal paper. They need to “touch” the characters printed as dots on a thicker paper.
When we want to print a document for blind people, we first need to convert the document to the Braille document before printing. Until today, they are still using the program I have written to print Braille documents.
How did you first get involved in the KTP?
One day I was working normally at the university when my boss came in and she asked me if I wanted to do the KTP. Then I met with Paul Hinchliffe and Paul Baylis from Bott and Co and everything started. Later we had an interview and things started rolling.
How is the city of Manchester viewed from the outside?
I was expecting a modern city but Manchester is a classic city with classic architecture. There are a few skyscrapers but most buildings and houses are not tall. The view is way better than in my home country of Vietnam.
What is your favourite thing about living in Manchester?
The crowd when there’s a football match day. I was living near Old Trafford and now I’m living near Etihad. The fans are lovely. They bring with them the match atmosphere.
What is the biggest misconception of AI?
AI will take away jobs. When we have a washing machine, it did not take away our washing jobs, It gave us more time doing other (more interesting) jobs. It’s the same for AI. We will have more time on our hands to do more interesting things.
I personally think that AI (and automation) is extremely useful. But the legal domain is underrepresented in the literature mainly because of the inaccessibility of legal texts. But recently, we can access some legal corpora and we will see more researchers focus on the problems in this domain.