People & Strategy Spring 2017 Vol. 40 Issue 2 - 69
The Future of Professions: How
Technology Will Transform the
Work of Human Experts
Authors: Richard Susskind and
Publisher: Oxford University Press | 2016 |
Reviewer: Richard K. Caputo, Ph.D.
The core argument in The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts is that new
sources of practical expertise are emerging, made possible
by increasingly capable machines operating either on their
own or with non-specialist users. This is a thoughtful and
thought-provoking book, portending a future, perhaps
merely a few decades away, in which professional expertise,
such as that attributable to accountants, clergy, educators,
journalists, lawyers, management consultants, nurses, and
physicians, among others, is more affordable and more
widely available than it is today.
The book expands related inquiry about the legal profession begun by Richard Susskind in previous works, including The Future of Law (1998), The End of Lawyers? (2008)
and Tomorrow's Lawyers (2015). It contains three parts.
Part I, Change, sets out a stylized historical development
of the professions, while explicating the "grand bargain,"
whereby each profession exclusively provides specific expertise-practical knowledge-to members of the public
at large. The authors contend that the professions are no
longer maintaining this bargain-too many people cannot
access the services they need because they are unaffordable, inaccessible, or unavailable.
Concomitantly, in today's Internet and technology-based
society, specialized information has become more widely
available, with networks of academics, practitioners, and
lay persons sharing their experience and expertise across a
wide range of platforms and communities. Shared ways of
thinking or intellectual frameworks about solving problems become more the norm, eroding the propriety sense
of what constitutes firm-specific, artistic, or other "intellectual capital." In management consulting, for example,
Barbara Pinto's "Pyramid Principle," once the province of
McKinsey, is a tool widely used and available as an online
text and as an "app." Notably, taking advantage of rapidly
changing Internet and technological advances in management consulting products and services, the Big Four
accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KMPG, and
PricewaterhouseCoopers) currently do more consulting
than the big three consulting firms (Bain & Company, Bos-
ton Consulting Group, and McKinsey & Company).
Part II, Theory, provides a 50-year overview of developments in information and technology and seven model or
alternative paths that the production and distribution of
practical expertise may take in the future. Most helpful is a
discussion of artificial intelligence and the AI fallacy: "the
mistaken supposition that the only way to develop systems
that perform tasks at the level of experts or higher is to
replicate the thinking processes of human specialists."
Rather, contemporary machine-based systems (AI)
increasingly outperform human experts, not by emulating
high-performing people, but by exploiting distinctive capabilities of new technologies, such as massive data storage
capacity and brute force processing. Increasingly capable machines in this sense will be matched by increased
pervasiveness across professions, though rates of change
may vary (less regulated professions such as management
consulting would be more susceptible to change).
The seven models, or explanatory paths, concerning the
production and distribution of practical expertise are:
Susskind and Susskind address
two major moral concerns,
given a foreshadowed future
of machines increasingly
"making decisions" that were
once the sole domain of people.
Traditional Model. Professionals will undertake their
work, usually in real time, face-to-face interaction that is
rewarded by time spent; technology will be used to streamline and optimize traditional tasks and work.
Networked Experts Model. Professionals will cluster,
informally, offering multi-disciplinary services via online
virtual teams, rather than through organizations.
Paraprofessional Model. Those with more rudimentary
training than professionals will provide services via consultation as in the Traditional Model, though supported by
procedures and systems enabling them to do some parts of
the work formerly done by professionals.
Knowledge Engineering Model. Knowledge in an area
of expertise is incorporated into systems available to less
expert or lay persons on an online self-help basis.
Communities of Experience Model. Evolving bodies of
practical expertise are crowd-sourced, i.e., built up through
contributions of past recipients of professional services or
of non-experts who have sorted out problems for themselves (e.g., Wikipedia).
Embedded Knowledge Model. The distillation of practical expertise in a form that can be built into machines,
processes, systems, and the like, even into people, whereby
knowledge becomes an integral part of the entity or host, a
resource shared among hosts, with ownership remaining in
the hands of the distributors.
VOLUME 40 | ISSUE 2 | SPRING 2017