Childhood’s End

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Notice anything different about this post?

The difference is probably hard to spot. The difference is ––I’m dictating directly into my word processor. 131_voiceactivation

Now, that may not seem very different to you; but I guarantee you, it’s really different for me. Sure, I used to dictate all the time when I was practicing law. I even dictated quite a bit when we were developing and deploying court computer systems. I’ve dictated documentation, help text, process and procedure descriptions and instructions, and, of course, correspondence.

And, of course, Siri and I are chat pals.

However, the experience of dictating and see the words appear on screen in my document is (for me, at least) totally unlike dictating to either a live stenographer or a dictation unit.

I regard this activity as preparation for direct Brain Machine Interface.

Oh, you don’t believe that BMI is coming anytime soon? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably the comfortable majority.

Among those not in the comfortable majority are Mark Zuckerberg, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and Google, to name a few. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is already doing it. Granted, it is currently very expensive and requires invasive surgery. But Facebook, DARPA, and Google are betting that changes in a big way in the next five or so years.

You don’t have to believe BMI it is possible; but you should be thinking about the implications if it is. Because, whether ubiquitous BMI is just around the corner or not, capabilities that are mighty close are already here.

Like dictation directly into a standard word processor, email, and, most directly, text messaging.

How do you think voice activation will enter court technology?


At some time (usually grade school) almost everyone has played the party game where people sit in a circle and whisper a short message that is passed from one person to the next.  The “fun” of the game is that by the time the message makes it around the room, it has invariably morphed beyond recognition.  A not unusual outcome is that the end message is almost exactly opposite the original.

Naturally, the moral of the game is that communications get distorted as they pass through multiple people in a linear fashion.  Ha ha ha.

Consider now the many lines of communication in court processes.  Every time information moves from one actor to the next (for example, a pleading is filed by one person and sent to another to set for hearing) constitutes a risk of distortion.   But in courts, this “game” is no laughing matter.  Indeed, many, many court processes involve significant— and resource consumptive—checks and cross checks to attempt to catch such distortions. 

This phenomenon helps explain why implementation of automated workflow as part of Electronic Content Management (ECM) invariably results in far greater savings and improvement than is usually contemplated when considering ECM implementation.  The savings from avoiding mistakes are usually larger than expected (See the October 1, 2012 post, “Last But Not Least: Defects – the Seventh Waste“), although often avoidance of those mistakes constitutes part of the motivation for moving to ECM. 

What is generally unexpected is the magnitude of the savings from being freed from deeply ingrained sub-processes intended to catch what were previously difficult-to-detect errors.  Perhaps the chance of a communications glitch in a process were exceedingly small.  In fact, in some courts, a particular error occurred only once; following which, the judge insisted that forever more everything be rechecked each and every time to avoid any reoccurrence due to concern with the potential consequences.  Thus an activity with a potential failure rate of less than one in a thousand – one tenth of one percent – has a redundant and/or additional activity that is unneeded nine hundred ninety-nine times (see the September 17, 2012 post, “Inside the Department of Redundancy Department: The Waste of Over Processing“). 

In fact, many times these often subtle redundancies remain virtually invisible as the result of long use and tight coupling with core processes.  Many times, the redundant activities persist long after the reasons for which they were instituted no longer exist.   No one even thinks about them.   As a result, many courts start achieving savings and efficiencies directly from the process and opportunity analysis that precedes actual ECM implementation.

Upon implementation of an ECM system with configurable workflow, the risk of things “slipping through the cracks” or being incorrectly routed (communicated) declines by orders of magnitude.  With automated workflow, it doesn’t matter how many times the message gets whispered around the room: It comes out the same one hundred percent of the time.   Moreover, the savings from eliminating the re-checking and repeating of the “communication” are often greater than even the savings from eliminating the occurrence of the errors themselves.

Keeping Up With the Kids: Document Access on Demand

“The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour…. A carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day…. Engines will drive boats 10 or 12 miles an hour, and there will be hundreds of steamers running on the Mississippi, as predicted years ago.”

–Oliver Evans, 1800 (Pacific Southwest Railway Museum website,

One of the “wake up” lines used in technology conferences, writing and discussions is the observation that today’s college students have never known a world without the Internet.  That is and will continue to be increasingly important to courts and the justice system as they deal with, serve, interact with and are staffed by a generation that has grown up expecting – assuming – that all information on any subject is instantly available on the nearest computer.   This is a generation with little respect for – and no patience with – institutions that cannot provide information anywhere, any time, on request.

When I read history, I like to pay attention to the technology of the day.  For example, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, it took George Washington weeks to travel from Mt. Vernon to New York.  Oliver Evans’s prediction quoted above was made in 1800.  You can bet most people figured he was crazy.  By the 1830s, major railroad infrastructure was in place across America.  Any business practices that assumed weeks or months for travel or communications were obsolete – no matter how effective they had been in Washington’s time.

When Lincoln entered politics in the 1840s, the trains were the fastest means of communication.  By the time he was president, the telegraph infrastructure was in place; and Lincoln spent much of his time at the telegraph office in order to get close to real-time battlefield reports. News brought by train was stale and irrelevant.

Woodrow Wilson, a young boy at the time of the Civil War, became a lawyer.  He was an early adopter of a brand-new invention: the typewriter.  Eventually, of course, all serious business and official writing were done with typewriters.  The obvious reason was increased legibility.  The much more profound reason, only discovered AFTER adoption, was increased speed.  By the time Wilson was president, hand-written documents were simply not taken seriously in official contexts.

As a certified “oldster”, I derive a certain amount of perverse pleasure in the knowledge that, just as it is easy for those in my generation to feel a bit out of touch with “youngsters” who think and act based on reflexes, beliefs, and expectations shaped by the technological environment in which they grew up, so too today’s young adults will find themselves stretching to keep up with their children.

These kids will grow up, among other things, never having known a time when they were not connected, 24/7 by smart phones and their successors, to everyone (social networking first; parents second), everything (Google all available knowledge, facts, information, and records), everywhere (on-line access to images and sound from ubiquitous real-time cameras and audio pickups).  Their location, who they are with, what they have seen and heard, and what they are doing will have been monitored from birth (Prediction: within the next ten years it will be child neglect to allow your child out of your sight without a GPS).

Can it be that this next generation will be more impatient and less respectful than their parents’ generation?  History says, “You can bet on it.”

The moral for courts and the justice system is, in order to stay relevant to the current and coming generations, better have those track shoes on.