Thomson Reuters Is Going to Do AI: Run Faster

March 11, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Thomson Reuters, a mostly low profile outfit, is going to do AI. Why’s this interesting to law schools, lawyers, accountants, special librarians, libraries, and others who “pay” for “real” information? There are three reasons:

  1. Money
  2. Markets
  3. Mania.

Thomson Reuters has been a tech talker for decades. The company created skunk works. It hired quirky MIT wizards. I bought businesses with information technology. But underneath the professional publishing clear coat, the firm is the creation of Lord Thomson of Fleet. The firm has a track record of being able to turn a profit on its $7 billion in revenues. But the future, if news reports are accurate, is artificial intelligence or smart software.


The young publishing executive says, “I have go to get ahead of this AI bus before it runs over me.” Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Working on security today?

But wait! What makes Thomson Reuters different from the New York Times or (heaven forbid the question) Rupert Murdoch’s confections? The answer is in my opinion: Thomson Reuters does the trust thing and is a professional publisher. I don’t want to explain that in the world of Lord Thomson of Fleet that publishing is publishing. Nope. Not going there. Thomson Reuters is a custom made billiard cue, not one of those bar pool cheapos.

As appropriate to today’s Thomson Reuters, the news appeared in Thomson’s own news releases first; for example, “Thomson Reuters Profit Beats Estimates Amid AI Push.” Yep, AI drives profits. That’s the “m” in money. Plus, Thomson late last year this article found its way to the law firm market (yep, that’s the second “m”): “Morgan Lewis and Thomson Reuters Enter into Partnership to Put Law Firms’ Needs at the Heart of AI Development.

Now the third “m” or mania. Here’s a representative story, “Thomson Reuters to Invest US$8 billion in a Substantial AI-Focused Spending Initiative.” You can also check out the Financial Times’s report at this link.

Thomson Reuters is a $7 billion corporation. If the $8 billion number is on the money, the venerable news outfit is going to spend the equivalent on one year’s revenue acquiring and investing in smart software. In terms of professional publishing, this chunk of change is roughly the equivalent of Sam AI-Man’s need for trillions of dollars for his smart software business.

Several thoughts struck me as I was reading about the $8 billion investment in smart software:

  1. In terms of publishing or more narrowly professional publishing, $8 billion will take some time to spend. But time is not on the side of publishing decision making processes. When the check is written for an AI investment, there may be some who ask, “Is this the correct investment? After all, aren’t we professional publishers serving lawyers, accountants, and researchers?”
  2. The US legal processes are interesting. But the minor challenge of Crown copyright adds a bit of spice to certain investments. The UK government itself is reluctant to push into some AI areas due to concerns that certain information may not be available unless the red tape about copyright has been trimmed, rolled, and put on the shelf. Without being disrespectful, Thomson Reuters could find that some of the $8 billion headed into its clients pockets as legal challenges make their way through courts in Britain, Canada, and the US and probably some frisky EU states.
  3. The game for AI seems to be breaking into two what a former Greek minister calls the techno feudal set up. On one hand, there are giant technology centric companies (of which Thomson Reuters is not one of the club members). These are Google- and Microsoft-scale outfits with infrastructure, data, customers, and multiple business models. On the other hand, there are the Product Watch outfits which are using open source and APIs to create “new” and “important” AI businesses, applications, and solutions. In short, there are some barons and a whole grab-bag of lesser folk. Is Thomson Reuters going to be able to run with the barons. Remember, please, the barons are riding stallions. Thomson Reuter-type firms either walk or ride donkeys.

Net net: If Thomson Reuters spends $8 billion on smart software, how many lawyers, accountants, and researchers will be put out of work? The risks are not just bad AI investments. The threat maybe to gut the billing power of the paying customers for Thomson Reuters’ content. This will be entertaining to watch.

PS. The third “m”? It is mania, AI mania.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2024







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