At today’s Oregon Federal Bar Association conference on innovation in the law, Sol Irvine is reported to have said, “We need more bionic lawyers.” (Or words to that effect. Twitter feeds never lie.)
Images of Lindsey Wagner meeting Lee Majors in season four of the Six Million Dollar Man immediately came to mind. I know I’ve dated myself, but the image of bionic lawyers evoked 40 year old misimpressions of what technology and human capabilities might look like when combined. Anyone would be creeped out about the fact that beneath that beautiful skin ran wires, electrodes and transistors . The ability to be better, stronger and faster is appealing. Substituting titanium, motorized joints and digital processors for flesh and bone was frightening to my 1974 brain.
Here’s another image.
As the America’s Cup drama unfolds in San Francisco Bay, a different illustration of man plus machine emerges. Who knew sailboats could travel faster than the wind? When did they learn to fly? Is a 72 foot sailboat skimming above the surface of the water still a boat?
Lawyers and sailboats have been acquainted for many years. Like me, many of my lawyer friends are also sailors. There is something powerfully engaging about the planning, the strategy, the cognitive exercise and the physical challenge of harnessing the elements to achieve a human goal. Therein lies an analogy to the work lawyers do.
I think that’s why I love to sail.
Now we have a clearer picture of what takes place behind the scenes in America’s Cup racing thanks to insights shared on National Public Radio in a piece broadcast this week. In Calculated To Win: Supercomputers Power America’s Cup we are treated to an under the spinnaker view of what makes this global sailing competition so compelling.
In what US fans hope to be a pivotal race 9, Team Oracle outmaneuvered and outraced the Emirates New Zealand team by a leisurely 84 seconds. The Kiwis have seemed invincible to this point. They have outsailed the US Team at every turn. The broadcast commentator observed that the Team Oracle USA win in race 9 was due to “a completely different boat than we had seen in the past.” Not in appearance, but in functionality, this was truer than it would appear.
To the uninitiated observer the Team Oracle USA boat looked exactly the same. The winning difference was the result of man plus machine adjusting in the heat of competition. Supercomputing capabilities coupled with real time information and the ability to adjust on the fly converted muscle and brains into a winning bionic team. If only Lee Majors and Lindsey Wagner could have been there.
Nick Holroyd, the technical director for Emirates Team New Zealand reports that until recent tournaments, the Kiwis fielded an America’s Cup team of 30 sailors and 15 engineers. He says now those numbers are reversed. During a race 3000 variables are measured 10 times each second. No human navigator could process data that quickly. However, the power of technology harnessed by humans to achieve superhuman results empowers the impossible: 24 meter sailboats that fly twice as fast as the wind.
Today’s America’s Cup sailors are no less athletic than their predecessors. In fact, they are more so. The helmsmen are no less sailors than their predecessors. They are more so. The difference lies in the power of technology to process data and allow real time changes in strategy to give a greater competitive edge.
Whether the Oracle team can catch the Kiwi’s, who are six races ahead, remains to be seen. It will only take one more win for the Cup to go back to New Zealand. One thing is certain: the winners of the America’s Cup 2013 will be the best bionic sailors in the world.
What about bionic lawyers?
When litigation or transactional engagements are involved, the new normal lawyer understands that in order to improve competitive performance, technology tools don’t make her a better lawyer, they help him practice better law.
What is clear is that sailing can never return to the days when computers were irrelevant to the sport. Nor can the practice of law ever return to the old normal.
Bionic lawyers unite (but don’t let your transistors show).