Monday, July 4, 2022

Interview with AI Expert and Founder Of Codesity, Yuri Mednikov

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1- Hello Yuri, can you please tell us a bit about you?

Hello, I think, it is better to start from that, how I became who I am. I was born in Russia, and after graduation from secondary school, I studied law at the Russian university and then moved to the Czech Republic to continue my studies in international relations. However, at some moment, I understood that these fields do not offer bright opportunities. As a teenager, I was interested in computing and programming and even participated in various contests at school. I decided to switch back to roots and return to computer science. I started as an Android developer, because was fascinated by opportunities, that mobile development offer: you can create apps that interact with the real world by sensors, Bluetooth and wireless connection, camera etc. You can use various Google services, from image recognition to payments. From Android, I moved to backend programming and then, I found myself in the artificial intelligence (AI).

2- What are your focus areas and why?

Well, first of all, I am a software developer, and my focus areas in this regard, are Android development, backend programming, cloud solutions, and AI. But I prefer a broader approach. You know,  many software engineers do not have domain experience. Companies hire computer science graduates that then build, for example, financial or healthcare systems without the understanding of their industries. All successful startups started from domain knowledge, not from cool frameworks or programming languages. Uber, Airbnb, Transferwise – they all started from the deep analysis of problems in their domains. That is why I describe my focus areas in a different way: I help small businesses in legal, healthcare and advertising industries to obtain smart AI and mobile services, that will reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction. This is the mission of “Codesity” – company, that I have created this year. On the other hand, I am also a founder of “Ask Lawyers” – this is the legal tech startup, that uses AI to offer legal assistance to businesses in Europe.

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3- How do you describe your journey in a few words?

For many years, initially as lawyer myself, then as a client of lawyers, I noticed many existing problems, for example, modern international trade, especially in the European Union, brings various regulations in different fields. Many lawyers simply do not know about everything, even in their own domain. But it is possible to use machine learning approaches to solve this problem. Also, the legal profession lacks transparency. There are many observers, that criticize work of lawyers in this regard. I understood that modern technologies could help solve many existing problems. That why I created my startup.

4- Where do you think your work is making an impact?

If we would talk about geography, of course, in Europe. I understand Europe as a big territory, not only the European Union but also countries, like the Russian Federation, Turkey, Serbia. I studied continental law as an undergraduate student, lived in Europe for many years and I understand issues of European law, better than issues of Anglo-American law. Also, European legal tech market, compared to the US and the UK, is still poorly developed; while there are some strong players, mainly in Germany and Netherlands, most European countries do not demonstrate developed legal tech scene yet. If we would talk about the sector, my work is oriented towards B2B (Business-to-business) sector, as it would offer small and medium companies an opportunity to receive quality legal services 24/7. Businesses require legal advice on taxation, trade, contracts, privacy etc; in other words have mostly similar issues, that can be solved by artificial intelligence, it is not criminal or family law, where everything is different and affects human life. Many companies have already outsourced legal and accounting tasks to third-party providers, because it is cheaper than have in-house specialists. Next step is an implementation of AI solutions.

In my home country, the Russian Federation, there are some legal tech apps that consult clients about simple cases, for example about most common legal documents, however, these systems are still very limited for now.

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5- How do you think AI is changing the future of the law firms?

There were several attempts to bring AI to the legal sector, most notable are ROSS – the project, based on IBM Watson technology and Luminance – the project, originally from the University of Cambridge. These steps were tiny because they were oriented to help lawyers in their daily tasks, then towards clients. These technologies help lawyers review cases, laws and track contracts,  however, real change would be, when artificial lawyers would start to consult real clients. I follow many initiatives, for example, ELTA – the European Legal Tech Association, and read discussions in academic journals, and I agree with those industry experts, who say that AI will increase transparency of lawyers’ job, because many people do not understand what lawyers really do, and why they are so high paid.

Many lawyers fear that AI would replace them completely and they lose their jobs. It is not correct. First of all, in aforesaid complicated legal issues, like crimes or divorces, “human lawyers” are still needed. Secondly, AI will give small law firms opportunities to develop their business and cut costs. A lawyer would work only on most important and complicated projects, while everyday consultations and paralegal tasks would move to cloud systems, that could cost 15, 25, 50, or even 100 dollars per month – and are still cheaper than hire paralegals!

So, to make a long story short, AI will change the job of lawyer completely. It will change not only what lawyer does every day, but also how it communicate with clients.

6- Tell us about your approach?

I believe that best tech projects were created by people, who had domain experience, not only technological skills. I mentioned Uber, Airbnb, Transferwise and there are many others. That is the problem of the legal tech community: many startups were built by people without legal experience! My approach is different, I move from my own experience, from industry experience, from clients’ perspective, because I want to build solutions, that would solve existing problems, not create new ones.

7- Do you think your mindset has anything to do with success?

I think that everybody can achieve success. I started as a lawyer – the most “non-tech profession”, and became an engineer, and the engineer who works with AI, cloud systems etc. That is quite challenging even for those guys with respected degrees in computer science. So, I think, I can call it a success. To achieve success, I use the old simple hack – I break big goals to smaller, more achievable, simple and realistic. When I complete a goal, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction.

8- If you could turn the time, what would you love to change?

You know, every one of us sometimes thinks about changing the past. However, I like to remind the words of Sir Richard Branson: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over”. We learn from our mistakes, and how we can learn without them? So, I do not want to turn the time.

9- What are you most excited about at the moment?

It can sound trivially, but I am excited about life in general! Life gives us every day new opportunities, but many people, how wisely noticed Thomas Edison, miss them. I think, that most existing in my life, that I have a job, that I love to do. Although, I have some hobbies, that keep me fresh. For example, I like to learn foreign languages, I can already speak fluent Spanish and German. And of course Russian and English. And I keep learning! This helps me to communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds, to share my ideas and to learn something new from them.

10- The last word or final thoughts?

Technologies are a double-edged sword. While Elon Mask predicts a worst case scenario of using AI, I think AI opens a lot of opportunities to humans. However, we are just at the beginning of a new digital era, and no one could forecast what could be. But I try to stay optimistic. Thank you for an interview.

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Noelle Elia
Noelle Elia
is a Financial analyst at PSPC. Graduated from Telfer School of Management, Finance/Accounting with interest to Entrepreneurship and New Media.
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