On the Third Hand Cont’d.

working robot

Will the machines take over the jobs?

In a recent TED talk, scholar, economist, author, and general wunderkind Daniel Susskindl[1] says the question is distracting us from a much bigger and more important issue:  how will we feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves if we no longer work for a living?:

“If we think of the economy as a pie, technological progress makes the pie bigger. Technological unemployment, if it does happen, in a strange way will be a symptom of that success — we will have solved one problem — how to make the pie bigger — but replaced it with another — how to make sure that everyone gets a slice. As other economists have noted, solving this problem won’t be easy.

“Today, for most people, their job is their seat at the economic dinner table, and in a world with less work or even without work, it won’t be clear how they get their slice. This is the collective challenge that’s right in front of us — to figure out how this material prosperity generated by our economic system can be enjoyed by everyone in a world in which our traditional mechanism for slicing up the pie, the work that people do, withers away and perhaps disappears.

Guy Standing, another British economist, agrees with Susskind about this larger issue. The following excerpts are from his book The Corruption of Capitalism. He begins by quoting Nobel prizewinning economist Herbert Simon’s 1960 prediction:

“Within the very near future – much less than twenty-five years – we shall have the technical capacity of substituting machines for any and all human functions in organisations.”

And then he makes these comments:

“You do not receive a Nobel Prize for Economics for being right all the time! Simon received his in 1978, when the number of people in jobs was at record levels. It is higher still today. Yet the internet-based technological revolution has reopened age-old visions of machine domination. Some are utopian, such as the post-capitalism of Paul Mason, imagining an era of free information and information sharing. Some are decidedly dystopian, where the robots — or rather their owners — are in control and mass joblessness is coupled with a ‘panopticon’ state[2] subjecting the proles to intrusive surveillance, medicalized therapy and brain control. The pessimists paint a ‘world without work.’ With every technological revolution there is a scare that machines will cause ‘technological unemployment’. This time the Jeremiahs seem a majority.

 “Whether or not they will do so in the future, the technologies have not yet produced mass unemployment… [but they] are contributing to inequality.

“While technology is not necessarily destroyed jobs, it is helping to destroy the old income distribution system.

“The threat is technology-induced inequality, not technological unemployment.”

Economic inequality and income distribution (sharing national wealth on a basis other than individual earned income) are two sides of the issue of economic fairness — always an inflammatory topic.

When I began my study of economics 15 months ago, I had never heard of economic inequality, and income distribution was something socialist countries did. Now I find both topics all over worldwide economic news and commentary and still mostly absent in U.S. public discourse (such as it is) outside of academic circles. On the whole, most policy-makers on both the left and right maintain their allegiance to the post-WWII Mont Pelerin neoliberal economic model, supported by a cultural and moral bias in favor of working for a living, and if the plutocrats take a bigger slice of pie while the welfare rug gets pulled on the working poor, well then so be it. If the new robotic and super-intelligent digital workers do in fact cause massive technological unemployment among the humans, we’ll all be reexamining these beliefs, big time.

Finland flag smaller

I started this series months ago by asking whether money can buy happiness, citing the U.N.’s World Happiness Report. The 2018 Report was issued this week, and who should be on top but… Finland! And guess what — among other things, factors cited include low economic inequality and strong social support systems (i.e., a cultural value for non-job-based income distribution). National wealth was also a key factor, but it alone didn’t buy happiness:  the USA, with far and away the strongest per capita GDP, had an overall ranking of 18th. For more, see this World Economic Forum article or this one from the South China Morning Post.

We’ll be looking further into all of this (and much more) in the weeks to come.

[1] If you’ve been following this blog for awhile and the  name “Susskind” sounds familiar, a couple years ago, I blogged about the future and culture of the law, often citing the work of Richard Susskind, whose opus is pretty much the mother lode of crisp thinking about the law and technology. His equally brilliant son Daniel joined him in a book that also addressed other professions, which that series also considered. (Those blogs were collected in my book Cyborg Lawyers.) Daniel received a doctorate in economics from Oxford University, was a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard, and is now a Fellow in Economics at Balliol College, Oxford. Previously, he worked as a policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and as a senior policy adviser in the Cabinet Office.

[2] The panopticon architectural structure was the brainchild of legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham. For an introduction to the origins of his idea and its application to the digital age, see this article in The Guardian.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (3): “Walk in Stupid Everyday”

 

We looked last year at physicist Thomas Kuhn’s model for how paradigms shift, and also explored another scientist’s exhortation “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

The Future of the Professions

Good, quotable advice, but how do you create what you can’t see? Richard and Daniel Susskind say often in their book The Future of the Professions that, as they travel the world delivering their message, many professionals agree that there’s a massive paradigm shift currently happening in the professions, just not their own.

Why this paradigm shift blindness?

 

Reason 1:  Too Much Expertise

wired to createAuthors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire describe this phenomenon in their marvelous book Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind:

“While experience is an important aspect of excellence in any creative discipline, one risk of being a seasoned pro is that we become so entrenched in our own point of view that we have trouble seeing other solutions. Experts may have trouble being flexible and adapting to change because they are so highly accustomed to seeing things in a particular way.”

Reason 2:  Cultural Blindness

In each of the past two years (here and here), we’ve also looked at research from the emerging field of cultural neurology cultural neurology that suggests our brains’ observation and cognitive faculties are so linked to our cultural context that we simply can’t see paradigm shifts when they happen. Our cultural bias blinds us — it determines what we see and don’t see, and can literally blind us to new developments happening in our midst.

Reason 3:  Not Being a Newcomer

Again from Wired to Create:  “the newcomers to a field are sometimes the ones who come up with the ideas that truly innovate and shift paradigms.” In the law, the newcomers are responsible for the wave of new practice models and technologies. As I said last year, “By the time the new paradigm’s opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it, the paradigm we can’t see now will be the only one the new generation has ever known.”

A Cure for Paradigm Shift Blindness:  Get Stupid

MavericksDan Wieden is imminently quotable. He ought to be:  he’s one of the namesakes of legendary ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, and personally created Nike’s “Just Do it” slogan.

W+K has offices all over the world and bills over a billion dollars annually. Their website is a creative trip all its own — you might enjoy cruising it, if you have a moment. The firm was profiled in a 2006 business bestseller, Mavericks at Work:  Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, where Wieden was famously quoted as saying this about his approach to keeping W+K at the top of its game:

“Whatever day it is, something in the world changed overnight,
and you better figure out what it is and what it means.
You have to forget what you just did and what you just learned
You have to walk in stupid every day.”

Lawyers aren’t the only professionals who will have trouble following that advice. People pay us to be smart; their benefit and our livelihood depend on it. True, but there’s a whole lot of shaking goin’ on around us. We might want to get stupid enough to see it.

Next time, we’ll look at another paradigm shifting skill that won’t come easy:  embracing failure.

Mavericks at Work may be the best business book I’ve ever read. If you like that kind of thing, you owe it to yourself.

And Wired to Create is the best I’ve ever read on its topic. Author Scott Barry Kaufman is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post, covering psychology, mental health, and neuroscience. And that’s just the first sentence of each of their author bios. Talk about creds.)

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4  33%

 

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

Professional Paradigms Old and New (1): The Future Is Here, And We’re Not In It

 

The first six months of 2015, this blog ran a series on the Future of Law. About halfway through, I discovered the work of law futurist Richard Susskind, and quoted his books several times after that.

The Future of the ProfessionsRichard and his son Daniel recently teamed up to publish The Future of the Professions:  How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts.

The book takes commitment to get through — it is exhaustively (sometimes exhaustingly) researched, and written with the painstaking (sometimes painful in its meticulousness) logic of philosophy (or a legal brief). But if you want to make your own contribution to the future of the profession, it’s an absolute must-read.

Among other things, you’ll find lots of new news about practice models and technologies — not just in law, but the other professions as well — which gives a sense of the vastness of the paradigm shift currently well underway in all the professions.

Here’s how the book summarizes its message:

“[T]he professions are our current solution to a pervasive problem, namely, that none of us has sufficient specialist knowledge to allow us to cope with all the challenges that life throws at us. We have limited understanding, and so we turn to doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, and other professionals because they have ‘practical expertise’ that we need to bring to bear in our daily lives. In a print-based society, we have interposed the professions, as gatekeepers, between individuals and organizations, and the knowledge and experience to which they need access.

“In the first two parts of the book we describe the changes taking place within the professions, and we develop various theories (largely technological and economic) that lead us to conclude that, in the future–in the fully fledged, technology-based Internet society–increasingly capable machines, autonomously or with non-specialist users, will take on many of the tasks that currently are the exclusive realm of the professions.

While we do not anticipate an overnight, big-bang revolution, equally we do not expect a leisurely evolutionary progression into the post-professional society. Instead, we predict what we call and ‘incremental transformation’ in the way in which we organize and share expertise in society, a displacement of the traditional professions in a staggered series of steps and bounds. Although the change will come in increments, its eventual impact will be radical and pervasive.

“In other words, the professions as we have known them are facing the full implications of a massive paradigm shift from analog to digital in how we create, curate, and communicate wisdom, expertise, and specialized knowledge. The old paradigm relied on manuscripts and human brains; the new is proliferated in digitized forms most of us can barely conceive of.”

The result? Let’s put it this way:  the Susskinds could have called their book not the Future of the Professions, but the End of the Professions.

As I’ve said before, this paradigm shift is way bigger than our individual opinions of it. This series will offer some thoughts on how we reckon with it.

 The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4  33%

For last year’s version of the Future of Law, check out this collection of those blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for details.