Last year, reporters for the
Economists and futurists know it's not all doom and gloom, but it is all change. Oxford academics
Knowledge-based jobs were supposed to be safe career choices, the years of study it takes to become a lawyer, say, or an architect or accountant, in theory guaranteeing a lifetime of lucrative employment. That is no longer the case. Now even doctors face the looming threat of possible obsolescence. Expert radiologists are routinely outperformed by pattern-recognition software, diagnosticians by simple computer questionnaires. In 2012,
In their much-debated book The Second Machine Age,
So where does that leave the professions, whose hard-won expertise is beginning to fall within the power of computers and artificial intelligence to emulate? The efficiency of computerisation seems likely to spell the end of the job security past generations sought in such careers. For many, what were once extraordinary skillsets will soon be rendered ordinary by the advance of the machines. What will it mean to be a professional then?
"We'll see what I call decomposition, the breaking down of professional work into its component parts," says leading legal futurist professor
"Some of these parts will still require expert trusted advisers acting in traditional ways," he says. "But many other parts will be standardised or systematised or made available with online service." In a previous book Tomorrow's Lawyers, he predicts the creation of eight new legal roles at the intersection of software and law. Many of the job titles sound at home in IT companies: legal knowledge engineer, legal technologist, project manager, risk manager, process analyst.
"Many traditional lawyers will look at that and think: 'Yes, they might be jobs, but that's not what I went to law school for. And that's not what my parents' generation did as lawyers.'" That, says Susskind, is not his concern: whether we call these new positions lawyers or not, the legal sector will survive.
"What I often say is that the future of law is not Rumpole of the Bailey, and it's not
"Those professions that do not change will render themselves obsolete," says Dr
No one knows for sure what the careers of the future will look like. But the people at the cutting edge are already watching old jobs disappear - and experimenting with the technology that has begun to create new ones. Here's how three of the professions - medicine, architecture and the law - could be transformed, according to the people helping to reinvent them.
Five years ago, entrepreneur
Moore is optimistic about the revolution computerisation has unleashed in his sector. "I don't think of [software] as consuming the industry, as much as I think of it as supporting the industry. So with software, certainly there are mundane, routine tasks that will become more efficient, but by making those tasks more efficient, lawyers will be able to move up in the food chain and serve millions more legal transactions than they currently can."
Even judges, he says, will need to move online. "I think we have to have virtual courts.
Such changes would mean fewer lawyers were needed to meet existing clients' needs. But there is an upside: as costs fall and lawyers serve more clients, small businesses and private individuals will suddenly be able to afford legal advice. This is the "latent legal market", a disenfranchised horde of potential customers estimated to be worth as much as pounds 27bn. "There's really an unmet demand for legal services," says Moore. "We need more lawyers, not fewer."
He believes architects have little to fear from artificial intelligence. "Yes, you can automate. But what does a design look like that's fully automated and fully rationalised by a computer program? Probably not the most exciting piece of architecture you've ever seen."
Technology won't destroy the profession, but it will, he says, democratise it. "There's a paradigm shift now: the one-man architect working from home with a bright idea now has access to an infinite amount of computing power in the cloud. That means a one-man designer, a graduate designer, can get access to the same amount of computing power as these big multinational companies. So suddenly there's a different competitive landscape."
Baxter is keen to highlight the many new opportunities software creates for the savvy architect. Collaboration across continents is growing ever easier, opening up projects all over the world. This, in turn, has paved the way for greater specialisation: the expert in the most minute aspect of design can apply their insight in several countries in the space of a single working day.
"The architectural profession absolutely will still exist," he says.
"I think what's happening is we're getting a more collaborative approach.
But ultimately somebody still makes the decision."
He expects someone to succeed in the next five years. After which, it will only be a matter of time before diagnosis is something done primarily by machines. "It's a matter of providing the computer with the data. Once it has the data, it's able to consider thousands or millions of times more parameters than a human can hold in their head." We will still need medical professionals to guide us and provide the human touch - but doctors will have to accept that computers are better at parts of the job than they are.
It's not just software and diagnosis, either: surgeons will have to make way for smarter machines. "I think we're going to see the role of the physician changing significantly through the use of robotics," says Diamandis. He cites the work of
"Eventually, where this is going," says Diamandis, "is that the robot will end up doing the surgeries on its own. I can imagine a day in the future where the patient walks into the hospital and the patient needs, say, cardiac surgery, and the conversation goes something like this: 'No, no, no, I do not want that human touching me. I want the robot that's done it 1,000 times perfectly.'"
Yet, despite the large parts of the role that technology will take from them, he does not expect a collapse in our demand for doctors any time soon - largely because we already need so many more than we have. In the US alone, for example, experts predict a shortage of up to 91,500 physicians by 2020. "And that's low compared to the rest of the world," he says. "
"It's about the economics," explains Diamandis. The software and robots are already here - or well on their way - but this unmet demand will remain until the tech is not only more effective but cheaper than the equivalent doctor. "I call this process the 'dematerialisation of technology'. You used to buy a GPS, you used to buy a camera, you used to buy records. These things which were physical have dematerialised on to your phone, and de-monetised, becoming effectively free. And finally they democratise. Healthcare is undergoing the same process: dematerialisation and democratisation."
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