Monday, October 2, 2023 -
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Quaking in my boots

I am supposed to be quaking in my boots. Not I, Hillel Goldberg, the individual. Not I, a columnist for the Intermountain Jewish News, a specific newspaper. Not I, a columnist for any newspaper. But I, a writer. Any writer. We are all supposed to be quaking in our boots because our jobs will soon be redundant, at best. And not just the job. Not just the economics in the coming cataclysm, but our artistry will also soon be trashed. Not just my artistry, such as it might be, but the artistry of any writer, anywhere, in any language. Who is your favorite biographer or novelist or columnist? They are all soon to be gone, consigned to the dustbin of history. Yes, I am supposed to be quaking in my boots — because of AI. Because of ChatGPT. It can already do what I can do, and soon, if not already, it can do it better. Not only better than I, but better than anybody. AI technology will close me down along with every other writer. We are doomed. It is coming a lot sooner than we think. Quake.

Consider the case of Steven A. Schwartz. He is certainly quaking. He is a writer; his speciality is writing legal briefs. Is he quaking! Not quite like I am supposed to be, however. Mr. Steven A. Schwartz is quaking for quite a different reason, though it is directly related to his writing. Perhaps he will be tried in court and jailed. Perhaps he will be sued by his client for false representation. Even if he suffers neither of these indignities, he will still  quake for the rest of his life, since, at the very least, he will have carved out for himself a prime position of shame in the history of AI. He will be right up there with Shakespeare and Tolstoy, just, however, as their opposite number.

Yes, when Mr. Schwartz of the esteemed law firm of Levidow, Levidow & Oberman wrote his legal briefs in the case of Avianca v. Roberto Mata, things did not turn out the way Mr. Schwartz had hoped. Not that the briefs were not  impressive. They were impressive indeed. Not that the number of precedents backing up his client was meager; they were impressive indeed.

Poor Mr. Roberto Mata. Perhaps no client in the entire world history of law had been more poorly represented than he — by the research of Mr. Schwartz of the impressively named law firm in the majestic federal court in Manhattan before the esteemed, Honorable Judge P. Kevin Castel. Second only to Mr. Schwartz’ client, perhaps no judge in the entire world history of law has had to confront so unexpected a turn of events as the Honorable Judge Castel. Suffice to say, nothing — absolutely nothing, taking the term absolutely denotatively — in the judge’s law school training or in his entire service on the court — prepared him for the disaster that Mr. Schwartz laid before him.

The case itself was simple enough. Mr. Roberto Mata claimed that  Avianca airlines owed him damages for the damage to his knee that a metal serving cart caused during an Avianca flight to Kennedy International Airport.

Benjamin Weiser — a writer for The New York Times, a writer, by the way, who is the last writer on the planet to be quaking in his boots — reports that Avianca asked the honorable court to throw out the case. Mr. Roberto Mata’s lawyers, naturally, objected. And they piled on the evidence supporting their client’s claim for damages. Case after case of evidence. Martinez v. Delta Air Lines, Zicherman v. Korean Airlines. And more.

Poor Mr. Schwartz.

Abashed is not the word.

Humbled hardly says it.

Not even humiliation.

Shocked doesn’t come close to what happened next in court.

The airline’s lawyers did not argue against the cases cited. The airline’s lawyers did not search for flaws in the cases’ reasoning and did not try to identify the bases on which to argue that their client’s case was different from the cited cases. No, the airline’s lawyers did not do any of that. They simply made one simple, irrefutable, plain, uncomplex observation:  Mr. Schwartz’ evidence, case after case, did not exist! The cases were fiction! 

Not a single quotation of supporting evidence from the cases was actually made by any lawyer, judge or witness.

This was “fake news,” beyond any dispute or interpretation.

How could this be? How could the esteemed Mr. Steven A. Schwartz of the esteemed Levidow, Levidow & Oberman, before the esteemed Judge P. Kevin Castel, in the esteemed federal court in Manhattan, make the unprecedented error of citing on behalf of his client, not one case, not one quotation, but a slew of cases and a slew of quotations that were worse than irrelevant, worse even than wrong — a slew of cases that simply did not exist — cases that never happened?

Mr. Schwartz, it turns out, had been quaking in his boots just a tad too much. He was riven with fearthat no legal research that he could possibly do on behalf of his client, in order to devise the best defense for his client, could match the formidable, heralded, daunting, intimidating, pivotal powers of ChatGPT! No! Nothing in his legal training or in his extensive legal experience could possibly reach the level of expertise and of persuasion as the legal research of ChatGPT. So Mr. Schwartz let ChatGPT do his legal research. And Mr. Schwartz’ research was  submitted to the honorable court. Case after case, quotation after quotation, submitted to the court, simply did not exist. Never happened.

What was further revealed in this uniquely unprecedented development in the entire world history of law was a unique redefinition of “lie” and a unique redefinition of “gullible.” Mr. Schwartz, ever the vigilant counselor on behalf of his client, did not just take ChatGPT’s word for it when this computer program submitted all of these cases and all of these quotations backing up the claim of his client for airline-caused damage. No, Mr. Schwartz went the extra mile! He actually verified ChatGPT’s findings. He did not verify them, however, as someone as uneducated and unsophis- ticated and ordinary as a non-lawyer might verify them, namely, by looking up the cases and verifying the quotations. No, Mr. Schwartz used  a more modern, more certain, moresophisticated method. Mr. Schwartz turned to ChatGPT itself to verify that all of its cases were real. Imagine Mr. Schwartz’ sigh of relief when ChatGPT, upon Mr. Schwartz’ request for verification, replied that the cases were all real and all found in reputable legal databases. Utterly thorough and careful that Mr. Schwartz was, ChatGPT’s affirmative response completed the final step in his careful, painstaking, deliberative preparation of his client’s case.

You may imagine for yourself just what happened to Mr. Schwartz and to his client as it was revealed in the federal court of the Honorable Judge P. Kevin Castel that Mr. Roberto Mata’s defense by Mr. Schwartz was fiction. The discovery was made not only by the other side’s attorneys but also, veritably, by Judge P. Kevin Castel himself. 

Suffice to say that Mr. Schwartz is now quaking in his boots, but for a very different reason why I and every other writer are supposed to be quaking in our boots. Who knows what penalties or, at minimum, what shame Mr. Schwartz will bear for all eternity in the worldwide history of the legal profession. My boots, however, as well the boots of all other writers, are just fine, thank you. My artistry, such as it might be, and the artistry of all other writers, such as it might be, appears to be safe. Our jobs, too. 

Mr. Schwartz, incidentally, is unavailable for comment. They say he’s suffering from writer’s block. Not so Judge Castel. He is still marveling, as he put it, over “bogus judicial decisions, with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations.” Me? I’m not worried about AI, only about those gullible enough to believe it.

P.S. June 8 is Possible Sanctions Day in court for Mr. Steven A. Schwartz. Me? What would I do if I were Judge P. Kevin Castel? If ever there were a case where no punishment could possibly fit the suffering already self-inflicted, this is it. I would opt for  plain, uncomplex, unsophsticated, ordinary . . . mercy —after scheduling a new trial and ensuring a new lawyer and, of course, a new law firm for Mr. Roberto Mata, whose mind, after all this, doubtlessly hurts a lot more than his knee.

P.P.S. Who wrote this? Hillel Goldberg or ChatGPT? (Only Judge P. Kevin Castel knows for sure.)

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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