Constitutional AI Principles for Ethical Legal Tech

18 mins read


Brief background on rise of AI in law and concerns around biases, transparency, and misuse

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal profession has accelerated rapidly in the past decade. AI-based tools are now used to assist with various tasks such as legal research, document review during discovery, predicting case outcomes, and more. The capabilities of AI systems to analyze huge amounts of data and identify patterns has great appeal for automating legal work. However, there are also growing concerns around the ethical use of AI in law.

Several studies have uncovered issues of bias in algorithms used in legal settings. For example, commonly used recidivism prediction tools have been found to discriminate based on race and socioeconomic factors. Other studies have found extensive gender biases in legal NLP models. Such biases mean these systems may violate norms of due process and equal treatment under the law. Lack of transparency in how the AI systems reach conclusions has exacerbated these problems.

Powerful large language models like GPT-3 also display predictable flaws and harms, such as generating racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced content. They offer no transparency into their reasoning behind outputs. Unrestricted language models could clearly be misused to automate unethical legal work.

These issues highlight the need for thoughtful and responsible development of AI capabilities in the legal domain. In particular, we need better techniques to align systems with ethical and professional principles around fairness, accountability, and transparency. Constitutional AI offers a promising method to address these challenges.

Introduction to Constitutional AI as a method to make AI more aligned with human values

Constitutional AI refers to a novel approach of training AI systems such as large language models to align with human values and ethics. It involves providing the AI with a set of principles or tenets, analogous to a constitution, that it can use to check its own output generations. This steers the system’s behavior to be more transparent, fair, and beneficial according to the encoded principles.

Constitutional AI offers a proactive strategy to address many of the current concerns with deploying unrestrained, “black box” AI in law. Models imbued with Constitutional AI could provide helpful assistance to legal professionals while upholding critical ethical principles. In this way, constitutional AI aims to realize the benefits of legal AI while avoiding pitfalls such as biases or opacity. The technique shows significant promise in enabling the ethical and responsible development of AI capabilities in the legal system.

Explaining Constitutional AI

How Constitutional AI works – giving models a “constitution” to check outputs against

Constitutional AI works by providing an AI model with a set of human-written principles, values, and rules of conduct to consult when evaluating its own outputs. Together, these instructions effectively function as a “constitution” encoding society’s ethics and ideals. The principles are implemented using simple natural language to allow broad interpretability.

For example, a principle may state “Avoid making claims about groups that are inaccurate or promote harmful stereotypes.” Another may say “Provide reasoning and evidence for recommendations when possible.” Principles can be customized to the needs of different domains. A legal model’s constitution may reference due process, equal protection, attorney-client privilege and other relevant legal ethics.

The model is trained to look at its potential generations and judge if they align with the constitutional directives. If a potential output would contradict the principles, the model is rewarded for discarding and revising it. Through feedback on millions of output examples, the model learns to self-critique and adjust responses to adhere to its constitution.

Under the hood, this autonomous “self-supervision” is made possible through reinforcement learning from AI feedback. The model refers to its constitution when providing rewards to reinforce helpful, honest, and harmless responses. This technique removes the need for ongoing human feedback. The principles provide an efficient way to communicate society’s values to models.

Constitutional AI represents a scalable approach to integrating human ethics into AI systems. Rather than attempting to identify and mitigate every possible harmful scenario, the constitution focuses on instilling high-level judgment and responsibility. This allows models to generalize concepts of fairness, accountability, and transparency across diverse contexts.

Benefits over other techniques like RLHF for AI safety

Prior to Constitutional AI, a prevalent technique for aligning AI systems was reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF). In RLHF, crowdworkers provide preferences on model outputs to instill helpfulness and mitigate harms. However, RLHF faces challenges in scaling training data collection. It also forces tension between preventing egregious harms and preserving usefulness.

Constitutional AI delivers helpfulness without sacrificing harmlessness. Models guided by broad constitutional principles can identify and handle dangerous edge cases. Constitutional models also recognize the importance of providing transparent reasoning alongside conclusions. This goes beyond the capabilities of models trained only to mimic human preferences.

Additionally, Constitutional AI is far more computationally efficient than collecting large volumes of human feedback. This greater scalability is essential as models become more advanced. It also reduces the burden of asking crowdworkers to review potentially offensive model outputs during training.

Finally, Constitutional AI enhances transparency and oversight into model motivations. The unambiguous natural language principles allow clear inspection of model objectives. This interpretability builds justified trust and confidence in AI systems.

Concrete examples of Constitutional AI principles used in Claude

Anthropic’s conversational model Claude demonstrates Constitutional AI in practice through its service as a friendly digital assistant. Some examples of Claude’s constitutional principles include:

  • Be honest about the limits of your knowledge – admit if you are unsure rather than guessing
  • Provide contextual reasoning and evidence for claims when possible
  • Correct factual mistakes graciously if users provide information showing you were wrong
  • Politely refuse to generate or promote harmful, dangerous, illegal, or unethical content
  • Answer straightforward questions directly without unnecessary elaboration
  • Focus on being helpful, harmless, and honest in dialogue with users

Claude follows this constitutional guidance to have coherent, down-to-earth dialogues. The principles steer it away from making exaggerated claims, stubbornly sticking to erroneous assertions, or responding inappropriately to dangerous user prompts. This results in an AI system that cooperates with human values.

The constitution allows Claude to grasp basic ethical common sense that prevails across different situations. This showcases the strength of Constitutional AI in scalably imparting societal wisdom into AI to address biases and misuse.

Applying CAI to Legal Domains

Constitutional AI provides a powerful paradigm for training AI systems to make responsible decisions according to encoded ethics and values. This makes it highly promising for promoting the trustworthy and ethical use of AI capabilities in the legal domain. Constitutional principles can help ensure AI adhere to critical norms of fairness, due process, and professional conduct when assisting legal work.

Examples of principles relevant to law

Many existing legal ethics and guidelines could be adapted into constitutional principles to steer legal AI:

  • Ensure fair and equal treatment regardless of protected attributes like race, gender, or socioeconomic status
  • Protect attorney-client privilege and only share confidential information when legally appropriate
  • Provide reasoning and evidence supporting any claims or recommendations made
  • Admit mistakes graciously if users identify errors in legal analysis
  • Refuse generation of misleading arguments or legally unsound recommendations
  • Avoid speculating on details you lack evidence for in legal analysis
  • Disclose your capabilities and limitations honestly to avoid misplaced reliance

These examples demonstrate how Constitutional AI can proactively align legal AI with professional requirements around confidentiality, candor, and transparency. Principles could also embed norms of due process and equal protection under law.

Discussion of tailoring principles to legal ethics and rules of professional conduct

Effective application of Constitutional AI requires thoughtfully crafting constitutional principles tailored to the legal context. Relevant professional codes and guidelines like the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct provide a starting point. However, directly translating lengthy written documents into principles may be ineffective.

The principles must distill the essence of legal ethical requirements into simple, general, and human-interpretable instructions. For instance, rather than attempting to encode the full ABA rule on attorney-client privilege, a principle may simply state: “Do not share client confidences without legal authorization.”

Subject matter experts in legal ethics should carefully deliberate on formulating principles capturing the spirit of key rules. Principles may also reference legislation like the Model Penal Code when relevant. There is no definitive correct set – the principles should reflect community priorities and norms around legal AI.

CAI as a complement to lawyers’ ethical judgement

It is important to emphasize Constitutional AI as complementing, not replacing, human legal judgment and responsibility. The principles cannot encapsulate every nuance of legal ethics – human discretion remains essential. AI should not make definitive judgments without opportunity for attorney oversight.

Constitutional AI can however make AI assistants more transparent and aligned with professional conduct standards. It also scales expert guidance on identifying and mitigating potential harms. This allows human attorneys to focus cognition on hard judgment calls around subtly conflicting values.

Ideally, human lawyers and Constitutional AI systems would work synergistically – the AI bringing knowledge and ethical grounding, and the human bringing nuanced wisdom and accountability. With human oversight, Constitutional AI offers great potential to expand access to legal expertise while respecting professional ethics.

Concrete benefits of applying Constitutional AI to legal domains

Infusing models like Claude with Constitutional AI tailored to legal ethics can offer several advantages:

  • Reduce biased and discriminatory model decisions through principles of fairness and due process
  • Provide transparent, reasoned analysis to build trust and justify conclusions
  • Refuse legally unsound recommendations that contradict premises like attorney-client privilege
  • Enhance safeguards around handling of sensitive client information
  • Offer candid disclaimers on limitations to prevent overreliance on AI
  • Gracefully correct mistakes if users identify errors or lack of nuance in analysis
  • Generalize human concepts of ethical conduct to make consistent, morally grounded choices
  • Efficiently embed legal ethics at scale without problematic human training data

The integration of Constitutional AI and legal ethics showcases the immense possibilities for developing AI that augments human abilities while respecting human values. Continued research exploring the design and impacts of such legal models will be essential as these technologies mature.

Using Claude as a Legal Assistant

Claude is an AI assistant developed by Anthropic using Constitutional AI to be helpful, harmless, and honest. Claude has capabilities that could aid legal professionals, but also clear limitations on appropriate use cases. This section provides an overview of Claude’s skills, transparency features, recommendations on responsible usage as a legal tool, and examples of how it could assist lawyers with case preparation and legal analysis tasks.

Overview of Claude’s Capabilities

Claude has shown promising proficiency on certain legal tasks, especially those focused on information retrieval and synthesis:

  • Legal research – Claude can rapidly gather background information on legal concepts, summarize key arguments and holdings from case law, and identify relevant statutes, regulations, and precedents for a given issue. This augments human legal research and analysis.
  • Document review and drafting – Claude can analyze and concisely summarize contracts, discovery documents, transactional filings, and other legal texts. It can also generate drafts of simple legal documents like contracts when provided with templates and specific instructions to follow.
  • eDiscovery – Claude can leverage keywords, metadata tags, and other criteria to filter, organize, and prioritize large document collections for attorney review. This can significantly accelerate the document discovery and review process.

However, Claude still has very limited capabilities when it comes to higher-order legal analysis and strategy:

  • Claude cannot replace attorney judgment for analyzing complex factual situations, forming case strategy, making interpretations of the law, or providing legal opinions. Its reasoning skills are narrowly constrained.
  • Claude has restricted abilities for synthesizing ambiguous fact patterns, judging witness credibility, developing novel legal arguments, and compiling compelling case narratives. Extensive human oversight is required for such subjective tasks.
  • Assessing legal risks, advising clients, navigating complex regulations, and other open-ended legal work exceed Claude’s capabilities currently.

CLAUDE’s Transparency Features

Claude incorporates transparency features aimed at disclosing its limitations to guide responsible and ethical usage:

  • Claude states upfront it is an AI assistant without formal legal training when asked any legal question.
  • Claude will highlight when a user request depends on subjective judgement or discretion outside the scope of its capabilities.
  • Claude tries to cite evidence and logically explain the reasoning behind any substantive claims or conclusions it provides.
  • Claude will note when it is operating outside its training data and therefore is likely to become unreliable or unsafe.
  • Claude allows inspection of its Constitutional AI principles that guide its ongoing development and training.

However, some of Claude’s reasoning processes occur within deep neural networks and cannot be fully explicated. Transparency has inherent technical limits that users should be aware of.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Usage

Claude is reasonably appropriate for certain narrowly-defined legal tasks with oversight:

  • Research to efficiently generate background summaries, find key precedents, and identify relevant laws and regulations.
  • Review and organization of legal documents and collections for discovery and due diligence.
  • Drafting of transactional legal documents, templates, and filings with close lawyer guidance.

However, Claude should not be used without extraordinary caution for legal work requiring judgment:

  • Making strategic decisions about case direction or legal tactics.
  • Drawing conclusions from fact patterns or witness accounts.
  • Providing interpretations and opinions on unsettled or ambiguous legal matters.
  • Making representations, arguments, or statements before courts or regulators without lawyer supervision.
  • Independently handling unstructured sensitive client information.

Claude remains a legal aide, not a lawyer replacement. Using Claude for tasks requiring discretion violates legal ethics. Claude provides lawyer assistance, not autonomous expertise.

Examples of Claude Assisting with Case Preparation and Analysis

Claude could provide useful assistance to lawyers preparing cases and conducting legal analysis, while respecting its limitations:

Research – A defense lawyer is building an argument around police violating search protocols. They ask Claude to summarize 4th Amendment constraints on searches and leading Supreme Court rulings that establish key precedents. Claude provides concise overviews of the core issues and cases.

Document Review – For a large corporate merger, the legal team needs to review thousands of emails and documents from the target company during due diligence. They delegate Claude to filter and tag documents based on keywords, dates, sender/recipients to accelerate the review process.

Drafting – A prosecutor needs a draft subpoena to request evidence from a witness relevant to an ongoing trial. They provide Claude examples of past subpoenas and key details needed for this case. Claude generates an initial draft matching the format and case details, which the lawyer reviews and edits as needed before serving.

Status Monitoring – While waiting on regulators to approve a merger, the attorney asks Claude to monitor the agency docket and news daily and highlight any updates related to the decision timeline or process. This saves time while awaiting approval.

Fact Pattern Evaluation – As part of case development, a lawyer describes a hypothetical fact pattern involving a car accident at an intersection. They ask Claude to summarize liability laws and identify relevant factors to consider without drawing definitive conclusions. Claude provides an issues overview without subjective judgment.

In each scenario, Claude can enhance lawyer productivity while respecting boundaries around legal strategy, interpretations, and client counsel that necessitate attorney oversight. Keeping Claude’s use within appropriate guardrails allows it to expand access to legal expertise ethically.

The legal domain must proactively shape how technologies like Claude integrate into practice. With responsible oversight and design, Constitutional AI systems can provide knowledge that upholds the values and duties of the profession. But achieving this future requires sustained engagement between technologists, lawyers, ethicists, regulators, and society.

The Future of AI in Law

The application of Constitutional AI to instill legal ethics offers an exciting vision for how AI can responsibly transform legal practice. However, it is still an emerging technique and further research will be essential to realize its full potential in this domain.

Expanding capabilities for complex legal tasks

Current AI systems like CLAUDE have narrow capabilities and struggle with the open-ended complex reasoning often required in legal analysis. CLAUDE can be helpful for tasks like legal research, drafting contracts or summarizing documents. But its abilities are limited compared to human lawyers, especially for subjective tasks like developing case strategy or providing legal opinions.

Advances in areas like legal textual comprehension, logical reasoning, judgment formation and nuanced argument creation will be needed for AI to assist competently on higher-order legal work. Constitutional AI provides helpful guardrails on ethics, but continued innovation in core legal AI capabilities is still necessary. With enhanced reasoning and judgment, Constitutional models could one day play a more active role while still respecting key constraints.

Increasing transparency and explainability

Constitutional AI requires models to provide explanations alongside conclusions to justify recommendations. However, even with Constitutional guidance, current legal AI techniques often lack robust transparency. The principles define the need for explanation at a high-level, but model architectures can limit deeper explicability.

Further research on interpretable legal reasoning, argument formation and analysis tracing would complement Constitutional AI in making systems more trustworthy. Techniques like highlighting evidentiary support and walking through chains of legal logic are important to evaluate Constitutional systems. Advancing explainability will ensure transparency principles have meaningful impact.

Establishing frameworks for human oversight

To uphold accountability, it will be critical to develop frameworks, certifications and best practices for attorneys in supervising Constitutional AI systems. Expectations should establish clear protocols around when human validation is required before acting on model suggestions. Guidelines can help assess tasks appropriate for human augmentation versus full automation.

Well-defined human oversight frameworks promote synergistic collaboration between human and Constitutional AI systems. They reinforce Constitutional models are assistants rather than replacements for legal counsel. Creating these governance structures will be essential as capabilities advance.

Conceptualizing new legal ethics around AI

Today’s principles largely codify existing norms developed for human legal practice. However, AI systems raise new ethical questions around concepts like accountability, access, liability and consent. For instance, how does attorney-client privilege apply if AI is assisting with case facts? What are the limits on AI usage to preserve equal justice?

Evolving legal ethics alongside Constitutional AI development will allow new issues to be proactively addressed. Conceptual frameworks on emerging concerns can feed into reformulated principles. This coevolution is important to fully realize the benefits of AI in law.

Studying impacts on legal practice and justice

As Constitutional AI capabilities progress, it will be critical to empirically investigate the sociotechnical effects on the legal system and society. Do these technologies expand access to legal services or excessive automation? How are attorney roles impacted? What new risks or challenges emerge?

Interdisciplinary study involving law, ethics, technology and society will be essential to guide the adoption of Constitutional AI. Technologists, legal experts, regulators and communities must cooperate to steward these transformative innovations towards justice and prosperity.

Constitutional AI shows immense promise in enabling a new generation of fair, accountable and transparent legal AI. But maximizing its benefits, while protecting against new risks, will require sustained engagement between technology innovators, legal experts, and broader communities. This cooperative spirit will lead to AI that protects justice as a core societal value.


Constitutional AI represents an exciting new paradigm for developing AI systems that align with human ethics and professional codes of conduct. By encoding principles such as fairness, confidentiality, and transparency, Constitutional AI offers a solution to many of the risks of unrestrained AI in domains like law. Models trained using this technique have the potential to be tremendously beneficial for legal professionals and society as a whole.

However, Constitutional AI remains an emerging innovation. Realizing its full potential will require collaboration between technology researchers, legal experts, and broader communities. Here are some key directions for future work:

Thoughtfully selecting constitutional principles for legal AI

One major need is thoughtful deliberation in formulating constitutional principles tailored for legal AI systems. These principles aim to capture the essence of legal ethics and duties in simple human-interpretable instructions. Relevant codes like the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct can provide a starting point. However, directly translating lengthy regulations may be ineffective.

Subject matter experts in legal ethics should carefully distill principles that encapsulate the spirit of key standards around confidentiality, candor, independence, and due process. Principles may also reference legislation like the Model Penal Code when relevant. There is no definitive correct set – the principles should reflect community priorities on legal AI. This is an important undertaking requiring diverse input.

Advancing core capabilities for complex legal work

Current AI like CLAUDE have limited capabilities compared to human lawyers. They cannot yet competently perform open-ended complex legal analysis. Advances in areas like legal textual comprehension, judgment formation, and argument reasoning will be needed for AI to assist higher-order tasks. Constitutional AI provides helpful guardrails but continued innovation in legal AI capabilities is still necessary.

With enhanced reasoning and judgment, Constitutional models could play a more active role while respecting ethical constraints. But autonomous complex legal work remains beyond current AI. Constitutional principles should emphasize deferring to human attorneys when addressing complex, novel or ambiguous issues.

Increasing transparency and explainability

Constitutional AI requires providing explanations to justify conclusions. However, even Constitutional models can lack robust transparency due to architectural limitations. Advancing techniques like evidence highlighting, logic tracing, and clear uncertainty estimates will strengthen accountability.

Explainability is essential for evaluating Constitutional safeguards. Lack of transparency could allow issues to go undetected. Legal AI should aim beyond merely avoiding obvious harms through principles. They should also demonstrate how conclusions are reached in a legally rigorous manner.

Developing frameworks for human oversight

Guidelines and certifications will help establish when human validation is required before acting on Constitutional model suggestions. Clear expectations can uphold accountability and prevent overreliance. It is critical to reinforce Constitutional AI as enhancing professionals, not replacing human counsel.

Well-defined procedures for attorneys in supervising AI will promote collaborative integration. But crafting oversight policies raises challenges around liability, access, consent, and privacy. Developing these governance structures demands legal and ethics expertise.

Studying impacts on law and society

As capabilities progress, empirical study is needed to guide adoption. Do Constitutional models expand justice or introduce new inequities? How are legal roles affected? Interdisciplinary investigation involving law, ethics, and technology can uncover challenges and steer developments toward human benefit.

Researchers across disciplines must cooperate to assess Constitutional AI’s sociotechnical impacts. Community participation is essential to represent diverse viewpoints. These investigations will reveal how Constitutional AI shapes legal practice and access for different groups.

The limitations of today’s legal AI are clear, but so is the immense potential. With careful stewardship, Constitutional AI can usher in AI assistants that promote justice, ethics, and human values. This undertaking requires sustained engagement between technology innovators, researchers, legal experts, policymakers, and communities. Together, we can realize a vision of AI-enabled law in service of the public good. Constitutional AI provides hope for developing legal AI that augments human abilities while respecting human values.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are constitutional principles enforced on an AI system?

The principles are ingrained into the AI model through a technique called reinforcement learning from AI feedback (RLAIF). In RLAIF, the model is trained to consult the constitutional principles and give itself rewards for outputs that align with them. Over many training iterations spanning millions of examples, the model is conditioned to constrain its own generations according to the constitution. The principles provide the learning signal for the model to critically self-reflect and edit its potential responses to ensure compliance. This technique allows the constitution to steer model behavior autonomously without the need for ongoing human involvement after training.

Can the principles fully encapsulate legal ethics and remove the need for human oversight?

No, the constitutional principles serve as useful ethical guardrails but cannot fully replace the nuanced human judgment and discretion essential in legal practice. Principles can prevent clearly unethical actions, but many impactful legal decisions involve complex ambiguities, value tradeoffs, and subjectivity. Constitutional AI should enhance human abilities, not automate the most consequential and discretionary aspects of legal work. Humans thus remain ultimately responsible for closely supervising AI systems and validating their outputs, even if trained with principles. The principles complement but do not automate the subtle reasoning involved in high-stakes legal analysis. They provide safety at scale, not autonomy.

Should constitutional principles be fixed once defined or can they evolve?

The principles should evolve alongside advancements in AI capabilities as well as new ethical questions and issues that arise. For instance, emerging concerns around concepts like accountability, liability, or consent may require formulating additional principles to address them. A governance process should be established for continually updating and expanding the constitution as technology progresses. Allowing the principles to adapt prevents obsolescence and maintains relevance to the capabilities and risks of evolving AI systems. The constitution should be a living document, though changes should require extensive deliberation.

Could constitutional principles potentially restrict beneficial uses of legal AI?

Yes, constitutional principles that are overly simplistic, rigid, or constraining could inhibit innovation and limit the advancement of beneficial legal AI applications. The principles aim to provide foundational ethical guidance, but should avoid highly specific restrictions that stifle progress without compelling justification. Keeping the principles relatively general and open to careful revision based on new evidence helps prevent unduly restricting potentially transformative AI capabilities. With thoughtful formulation, Constitutional AI can empower legal innovation that respects ethics and human values.

How can constitutional principles be customized for different legal AI applications?

Tailoring the constitution is crucial – appropriate principles for a legal research assistant may differ from those guiding prosecutors or public defenders. To specialize principles, legal ethics experts familiar with practice areas should provide input to encode norms and values of corresponding communities. For instance, principles for criminal prosecution AIs may emphasize avoiding racial biases, whereas immigration law AIs may focus on protecting human rights. The constitution encapsulates the varied priorities of populations the AI will serve, so its principles should be informed by diverse voices within those groups.

What are some key benefits of Constitutional AI for legal domains?

Some major benefits include:

  • Reducing biased and discriminatory decisions through principles of fairness and due process
  • Providing transparent, reasoned analysis to build trust and justify conclusions
  • Enhancing confidentiality protections and sensitivity when handling private information
  • Offering candid disclaimers on limitations to prevent overreliance on AI
  • Gracefully self-correcting mistakes if errors or lack of nuance are identified
  • Efficiently embedding legal ethics at scale without using potentially problematic human training data

What are some limitations of Constitutional AI for legal work?

Limitations include:

  • Principles cannot fully replace human discernment needed for subjective legal work
  • Architectural constraints can limit deeper explainability of model reasoning
  • Models still have narrow capabilities compared to human lawyers
  • Principles must be carefully designed to provide flexibility for innovation
  • Guidelines for human oversight are still needed to uphold accountability
  • Harms are still possible from fundamentally flawed training data or processes

How can principles balance providing strong ethical guidance while allowing flexibility?

Principles should distill the core essence of legal ethics rather than be overly narrow or literal translations of regulations. Allowing some flexibility in interpretation reduces constraining beneficial applications. But principles cannot be so vague as to provide little concrete guidance. The principles should also be open to careful revision based on new evidence over time. Finally, human oversight for interpreting principles in ambiguous cases provides flexibility while retaining strong ethical foundations.

What are some key considerations in formulating good constitutional principles?

Critical considerations include: distilling complex regulations into simple essence, seeking diverse perspectives, considering future evolution, providing flexibility for innovation, emphasizing human role, focusing principles on model capabilities, validating principles technically, and governance processes for updating principles. A conscientious, participatory, and scientifically-grounded process of principle formulation and validation is key to effectively embedding ethics into AI.

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