Asking GPT for the Ordinary Meaning of Statutory Terms

44 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2024 Last revised: 7 May 2024

See all articles by Christoph Engel

Christoph Engel

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Richard H. McAdams

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: February 6, 2024

Abstract

We report on our test of the Large Language Model (LLM) ChatGPT (GPT) as a tool for generating evidence of the ordinary meaning of statutory terms. We explain why the most useful evidence for interpretation involves a distribution of replies rather than only what GPT regards as the single “best” reply. That motivates our decision to use Chat 3.5 Turbo instead of Chat 4 and to run each prompt we use 100 times. Asking GPT whether the stat-utory term “vehicle” includes a list of candidate objects (e.g., bus, bicycle, skateboard) al-lows us to test it against a benchmark, the results of a high-quality experimental survey (Tobia 2000) that asked over 2,800 English speakers the same questions. After learning what prompts fail and which one works best (a belief prompt combined with a Likert scale reply), we use the successful prompt to test the effects of “informing” GPT that the term appears in a particular rule (one of five possible) or that the legal rule using the term has a particular purpose (one of six possible). Finally, we explore GPT’s sensitivity to meaning at a particular moment in the past (the 1950s) and its ability to distinguish extensional from intensional meaning. To our knowledge, these are the first tests of GPT as a tool for gen-erating empirical data on the ordinary meaning of statutory terms. Legal actors have good reason to be cautious, but LLMs have the potential to radically facilitate and improve legal tasks, including the interpretation of statutes.

Suggested Citation

Engel, Christoph and McAdams, Richard H., Asking GPT for the Ordinary Meaning of Statutory Terms (February 6, 2024). MPI Collective Goods Discussion Paper, No. 2024/5, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4718347 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4718347

Christoph Engel (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany
+049 228 914160 (Phone)
+049 228 9141655 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.coll.mpg.de/engel.html

University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics

Postfach 2220
D-53012 Bonn
Germany

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students ( email )

Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
PO Box 1738
Rotterdam
Netherlands

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Osnabruck, D-49069
Germany

Richard H. McAdams

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-2520 (Phone)

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