There is a famous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Darmok where Captain Picard is abducted by a captain of an alien species and brought to a barren planet that has a Predator like monster on it. The alien captain wants Picard to help him hunt the monster, while Picard just wants to make peace with his opposite. Trouble is, he can’t understand what the alien captain is saying. The Universal Translator, that magic device in Star Trek that turns all alien language to English, seems to be translating the alien Captain’s words correctly. Phrases that the alien captain says like “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” and “Shaka when the walls fell” are grammatically correct but cant be understood by Picard.
Eventually Picard figures it out. Rather than using language to communicate concepts, the aliens use metaphors and allegory to communicate meaning. In the alien’s culture Darmok and Jalad were mythical heroes who met on an island of Tenagra, fought and defeated a monster together and left as friends. Saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” makes perfect sense to the alien captain. It was a peace offering. But to Picard it was gibberish.
The episode got considerable attention because we use memes, GIFs and emoji in a similar way today; we use metaphors instead of written text. We are increasingly receiving chat data that contain these types of images. We can review this data manually, but as we look to our AI enhanced future, we ask can AI handle this type of data? We have already seen Gen AI summarising documents and creating helpful suggestions for our reviewers. What can it do with Memes, GIFs and emoji? Can it understand their meaning or will be it confused like Picard? And will it be able to learn?
Memes and GIFS in eDiscovery
Memes and GIFs are not new. They have been used in social media and informal chats for as long as the Internet has been alive. GIFs are widespread, available natively in Teams, Slack, WhatsApp and on most chat platforms. They are a popular shorthand for communication in a conversation and are increasingly found in eDiscovery matters. Have a look at your local Team’s chat and check how many GIFs there are for yourself. I’m guessing there is at least one GIF-happy person in your team.
We will talk about emoji and AI at some other. Lots of articles have been written on how to handle this type of data and ProSearch’s product manager Jessica Lee has discussed emojis in depth. .
A meme, also known as an Image Macro, is an idea or behavior that spreads within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme. They are often humorous, sarcastic and are used instead of the written word. They can even comfortably replace entire conversations. The meaning is not direct, it is implied. While you may think memes may be too informal for corporate use these images are still found in eDiscovery datasets. And let’s not mention that memes seem to be the communication of choice for some tech billionaires.
There are even communities churning out memes for eDiscovery.
‘Disaster Girl’ meme
‘Mother Ignoring Kid Drowning In A Pool’ meme