Arbel & Becher paper: Contracts in the Age of Smart Readers

Yonathan A. Arbel of Alabama and Shmuel I. Becher of Victoria University of Wellington have written Contracts in the Age of Smart Readers. Here's the abstract:

What does it mean to have machines that can read, explain, and evaluate contracts? Recent advances in machine learning have led to a fundamental breakthrough in machine language models, auguring a profound shift in the ability of machines to process text. Such a shift has far-reaching consequences for contract and consumer law, where information barriers have long been the driving force behind a large body of regulation. Our object here is to provide a general framework for evaluating the legal and policy implications of using language models as ‘Smart Readers’—tools that read, analyze, and assess contracts.

Synthesizing state of the art developments, we identify four core capabilities of smart readers. Based on real-world examples produced by new machine-learning models, we demonstrate that smart readers can: (1) simplify complex legal language; (2) personalize the contractual presentation to the user’s specific socio-cultural identity; (3) interpret the meaning of contractual terms; and (4) benchmark and rank contracts based on their quality.

Nevertheless, the implications of smart readers are more complex than initially meets the eye. While smart readers can overcome traditional information barriers and empower parties, they rely on black-box models that sophisticated parties can exploit. Smart readers can close some of the gaps in access to justice, but they also introduce concerns about contractual bias and discrimination. While smart readers can also improve term transparency, they might also lead judges and policymakers to relax their guard prematurely.

The current body of contract doctrine and scholarship is ill-equipped to deal with both the prospects and risks of smart reader technology. This Article narrows this gap. It maps the necessary theoretical, policy, and doctrinal adaptations to the age when machines can automate the reading of contracts.


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