Archive for Language and the law

Brown Revisited

A couple of months ago, I told you about a project to recreate the Supreme Court oral arguments associated with Brown v. Board of Education ("Spontaneous SCOTUS", 3/2/2024):

Years ago, Jerry Goldman (then at Northwestern) created the oyez.org website as

 a multimedia archive devoted to making the Supreme Court of the United States accessible to everyone. It is the most complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Oyez offers transcript-synchronized and searchable audio, plain-English case summaries, illustrated decision information, and full-text Supreme Court opinions

He rescued decades of tapes and transcripts from the National Archives, digitized and improved them, and arranged the website's interactive presentations of the available recordings. Jiahong Yuan and I played a role, by devising and validating a program to identify which justice was speaking when (See "Speaker Identification on the Scotus Corpus", 2008).

More recently, Jerry has inspired an effort to recreate oral arguments from famous cases that took place before the recording system was installed, starting with Brown v. Board of Education. Rejecting the idea of producing "deep fakes" using the existing transcripts and extant recordings of the justices involved, he and his colleagues decided to create what we might call "shallow fakes", where actors will perform (selections from) the transcripts, and a voice morphing system will then be used to make their recordings sound like the target speakers. The recreated clips will be embedded in explanatory material.

All the scripts have been written, and in a few months, you'll be able to hear the results — which I expect will be terrific.

And here it is, at https://brown.oyez.org!

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Hendiadys and sleeping in parks

Samuel Bray, "Cruel AND Unusual?", Reason 4/21/2024:

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear argument in an Eighth Amendment case, City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson. One thing I will be watching for is whether the justices in their questions treat "cruel and unusual" as two separate requirements, or as one.

The Eighth Amendment (to the U.S. Consitution) says that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

And the issue in the cited Supreme Court case is "Whether the enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment." (More here, here, and elsewhere…)

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When is research "deemed not research", and why?

This post is going to delve into one aspect of a recently-published article from the Centers for Disease Contol: DeCuir J, Payne AB, Self WH, et al. Interim Effectiveness of Updated 2023–2024 (Monovalent XBB.1.5) COVID-19 Vaccines Against COVID-19–Associated Emergency Department and Urgent Care Encounters and Hospitalization Among Immunocompetent Adults Aged ≥18 Years — VISION and IVY Networks, September 2023–January 2024. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2024;73:180–188.

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Unborn Alabama chickens

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The non-culpability of ChatGPT in legal cases

"Second Circuit Refers Lawyer for Disciplinary Proceedings Based on AI-Hallucinated Case in Brief", by Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy, reason | 1.30.2024

From Park v. Kim, decided today by the Second Circuit (Judges Barrington Parker, Allison Nathan, and Sarah Merriam); this is the 13th case I've seen in the last year in which AI-hallucinated citations were spotted:

We separately address the conduct of Park's counsel, Attorney Jae S. Lee. Lee's reply brief in this case includes a citation to a non-existent case, which she admits she generated using the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT. Because citation in a brief to a non-existent case suggests conduct that falls below the basic obligations of counsel, we refer Attorney Lee to the Court's Grievance Panel, and further direct Attorney Lee to furnish a copy of this decision to her client, Plaintiff-Appellant Park….

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Butter chicken

Who owns it?

It's sort of like who owns kimchee, Koreans (of course!) or Chinese — we've been through that many times — except that the question of who has the rights to claim they invented butter chicken is ostensibly internecine / intranational rather than international (but maybe not [see below]), as is the case with kimchee.

"India’s courts to rule on who invented butter chicken:  Two Delhi restaurants both claim to have the right to call themselves the home of the original butter chicken recipe" by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (1/25/24)

Judging from the account in The Guardian, the squabbling between the two Delhi restaurants is both picayune and misplaced:

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Normative language

A matter that requires nuancing: Jinyi Kuang and Cristina Bicchieri, "Language matters: how normative expressions shape norm perception and affect norm compliance", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2024:

Abstract: Previous studies have used various normative expressions such as ‘should’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘approved’ interchangeably to communicate injunctions and social norms. However, little is known about whether people's interpretations of normative language differ and whether behavioural responses might vary across them. In two studies (total n = 2903), we find that compliance is sensitive to the types of normative expressions and how they are used. Specifically, people are more likely to comply when the message is framed as an injunction rather than as what most people consider good behaviour (social norm framing). Behaviour is influenced by the type of normative expression when the norm is weak (donation to charities), not so when the norm is strong (reciprocity). Content analysis of free responses reveals individual differences in the interpretation of social norm messages, and heterogeneous motives for compliance. Messages in the social norm framing condition are perceived to be vague and uninformative, undermining their effectiveness. These results suggest that careful choice of normative expressions is in order when using messages to elicit compliance, especially when the underlying norms are weak.

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Stepford authors

The issues discussed in "AI plagiarism" (1/4/2024) are rapidly coming to a boil. But somehow I missed Margaret Atwood's take on the topic, published last summer — "Murdered by my replica", The Atlantic 8/26/2023:

Remember The Stepford Wives? Maybe not. In that 1975 horror film, the human wives of Stepford, Connecticut, are having their identities copied and transferred to robotic replicas of themselves, minus any contrariness that their husbands find irritating. The robot wives then murder the real wives and replace them. Better sex and better housekeeping for the husbands, death for the uniqueness, creativity, and indeed the humanity of the wives.

The companies developing generative AI seem to have something like that in mind for me, at least in my capacity as an author. (The sex and the housekeeping can be done by other functionaries, I assume.) Apparently, 33 of my books have been used as training material for their wordsmithing computer programs. Once fully trained, the bot may be given a command—“Write a Margaret Atwood novel”—and the thing will glurp forth 50,000 words, like soft ice cream spiraling out of its dispenser, that will be indistinguishable from something I might grind out. (But minus the typos.) I myself can then be dispensed with—murdered by my replica, as it were—because, to quote a vulgar saying of my youth, who needs the cow when the milk’s free?

To add insult to injury, the bot is being trained on pirated copies of my books. Now, really! How cheap is that? Would it kill these companies to shell out the measly price of 33 books? They intend to make a lot of money off the entities they have reared and fattened on my words, so they could at least buy me a coffee.

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AI plagiarism

"The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I. Use of Copyrighted Work", NYT 12/27/2023:

The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. platforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

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"Made from 100% VERBed X Y"?

As discussed in "this post" from 9/5/2017, the label "100% grated Parmesan cheese" means only that the product's Parmesan cheese is 100% grated, or maybe that the cheese in it is 100% Parmesan — never mind the cellulose powder that's also in the mix.

So I wondered about the grocery bags that are labeled

BAG MADE FROM
100% RECYCLED
PLASTIC BOTTLES

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AI percolates down through the legal system

There has been considerable concern that AI (e.g., ChatGPT and other LLM-enabled devices) would unduly influence sensitive sectors of society (e.g., the law, health care, education, etc.).  Some of the anti-AI rhetoric has bordered on alarmist (I will write a post about that within a few days.

For now, here's an example of how humans will fight back.

AI in Court
5th Circuit Seeks Comment on Proposed AI Rule

Lawyers will have to certify they did not use AI, or verify any work produced by AI.

Josh Blackman, The Volokh Conspiracy (11/29/23)

—–

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More AI shenanigans

Since When Does Eric Adams Speak Spanish, Yiddish and Mandarin?

He doesn’t. But New York City is using artificial intelligence to send robocalls featuring the mayor’s voice in many languages.

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Jeffery C. Mays, NYT (Oct. 20, 2023)


The calls to New Yorkers have a familiar ring to them. They all sound like Mayor Eric Adams — only in Spanish. Or Yiddish. Or Mandarin.

Has the mayor been taking language lessons?

The answer is no, and the truth is slightly more expensive and, in the eyes of privacy experts, far more worrisome.

The mayor is using artificial intelligence to reach New Yorkers through robocalls in a number of languages. The calls encourage people to apply for jobs in city government or to attend community events like concerts.

“I walk around sometimes and people turn around and say, ‘I just know that voice. That voice is so comforting. I enjoy hearing your voice,’” the mayor said at a recent news conference. “Now they’re able to hear my voice in their language.”

New York City’s embrace of the technology came this week as Mr. Adams announced a 50-page “action plan” for artificial intelligence — an effort to “strike a critical balance in the global A.I. conversation,” he said, by embracing its benefits while protecting New Yorkers from its pitfalls.

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AI and the law, part 2

Here we go again, but this time on a grander and more dramatic scale:

Pras Michel of Fugees seeks new trial, contends former attorney used AI for closing argument

The hip-hop artist convicted on campaign finance and foreign influence charges seeks to set aside the jury’s guilty verdicts.

By Josh Bernstein, Politico (1016/23)

Notice the high stakes of this trial, since the defendant, among many other serious, wide-randing charges, is accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China.

Fugees star Pras Michel, who was convicted in April on charges of conspiring to make straw campaign donations, witness tampering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, appears to be breaking new legal ground by calling for a new trial by claiming his defense attorneys allegedly relied on artificial intelligence to compile their final argument for the jury.

In a withering motion filed Monday night with a federal judge in Washington, Michel’s new attorneys argued that his Los Angeles-based lawyer David Kenner relied on the fledgling technology at critical points in Michel’s trial, contributing to “prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel.”

As soon as I saw David Kenner's name and photograph bruited in this case, I thought, "Isn't he one of the most prominent celebrity lawyers in LA?"

Indeed, he is.  See here and here.

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