Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to a webinar hosted by a legal tech service provider Clio on how COVID-19 is going to affect the future of professions. Featuring guest speakers Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, the session covered a wide range of things, from universal basic income to remote work.
Although a lot of it was viewed through the prism of the legal industry, it’s clear that the future of all professions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is worth pondering. Here are some key takeaways I got during the webinar.
People don’t want experts – they want results
Richard Susskind reminds us that to solve a problem, humans have historically turned to those who have a better understanding of it. That’s why professions exist. However, do we really need gatekeepers of “practical experience” in an AI-based internet society?
Richard highlights how far technology has come in making certain expertise more accessible. He used eBay’s online dispute resolution system that processes 60 million B2C disputes per year, Hamburg Concert Hall that was fully designed by algorithms, and some other cases as examples for this.
Things like the Web, brute force computing, and ML weren’t something we’d ever anticipated. But they’re changing our lives and professions on a daily basis. So, the question is – how in the future will we solve the problems to which professions are our current best answers?
Technology becoming more essential
Richard’s answer is that machines will take on more work – and that means a new landscape for professional services. In addition to that, we need new professionals very different from those of today.
When COVID-19 came, we got doctors seeing patients over Zoom, the entire education systems went online, remote/virtual courts of law re-emerged, and more. This all happened in less than six months.
Is the pandemic the very unfortunate experiment we needed to gather data to see how future-proof our systems are? Can it be perceived as a catalyst for the acceleration of the digital transformation of professional services?
What would a world without work look like?
Daniel Susskind wrote a book on this which came out in January of this year. He ponders the question which is on the mind of many people: is technological progress going to put me out of work? With this, he considered two perspectives:
- Frictional Technological Unemployment – This is a phenomenon where there’s plenty of work but employees are unable to do it. This is a possibility due to what Daniel calls skills mismatch, place mismatch, and identity mismatch. The uncertainty of what skills are future-proof is quite clear, especially now.
- Structural Technological Unemployment – This means that there simply wouldn’t be enough work to go around. According to Daniel, this might lead to issues like economic inequality, political, and social power of technology companies, and the challenged sense of meaning and purpose.
Publication day is finally here! My new book, “A World Without Work”, is now out. Thank you to everyone who helped along the way. You can buy it here and elsewhere. — https://t.co/LEAj65naC5 pic.twitter.com/KbQ77Qfvg7
— Daniel Susskind (@danielsusskind) January 14, 2020
What’s interesting is that we’re seeing these very problems as a result of COVID-19 at the moment. A few large tech companies are doing very well, whilst many small businesses are struggling. Daniel equates these issues resulting from the pandemic with the above issues he had presumed as caused by automation. What this means is that we should make sure that our response to the latter is better than the reaction to the former.
Is Universal Basic Income the answer?
For many people, their job is their only source of income. So, if Daniel Susskind’s model of structural technological unemployment is a possibility, how can the resulting problem of economic inequality – and the analogous COVID-19 consequences – be addressed?
Daniel ponders Universal Basic Income as an answer. Indeed, several countries have adopted this model for their recovery. It’s an instant solution that allows states a bit of room to consider long-term solutions. But how does it align with professional fulfillment when, for so many people today, finding meaning and direction in their work is vital?
"Attachment to the traditional ways of working have been a barrier to digital transformation," @Danielsusskind #AskASusskind
— Clio (@goclio) May 20, 2020
For that reason, Daniel’s preferred model for a world with less work is Conditional Basic Income. It means that people would receive basic income based on certain conditions like non-economic contributions, such as volunteering.
Is remote work our new normal?
Daniel Susskind argues that the remote work on the rise is a symptom of inequality, as not every worker can work from Zoom. So, the recent rise in remote work doesn’t eradicate the issue of place mismatch for many social groups.
Richard Susskind adds that remote work on a wide scale isn’t perfect as is – it needs to be industrialized. Many people’s living situations simply don’t allow for complete eradication of offices at the moment. Meanwhile, industrializing remote work fully and permanently isn’t a quick project.
However, remote work is also a way of saving on overhead costs. This goes hand-in-hand with the modern demands of clients who want “more for less”, as Richard Susskind specified. It’s also a great way for professional service providers to be more accessible. For instance, fewer face-to-face meetings are a good way to increase availability for clients which is, according to Clio, favorable for the legal service’s clients.
We can definitely perceive COVID-19 as a trigger for professional services’ transformation. Given that the remote work tech has been around for several years, the shift is just as much a cultural one as a digital one. After the pandemic is over, we should be more open-minded to such shifts in the future.
Photo credit: The feature photo has been taken by Tom Parkes.
Sources: Clio webinars / Liz Stinson (Wired) / Luke Martinelli (Euronews)
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