AI and the Professions

The Economist has a piece on AI and the Professionsthat interviews the father and son team of Daniel and Richard Susskind. Daniel, the father, is an Oxford don, and Richard is a legal technology consultant. In their new coauthored book, The Future of the Professions, (forthcoming),

Messrs Susskind and Susskind predict that it will go all the way to “a dismantling of the traditional professions”. These jobs, they argue, are a solution to the problem that ordinary people have “limited understanding” of specific areas of expertise. But technology is making it easier for them to get the understanding they need when they need it.

An interesting comment by the author of story is this:

Still, Messrs Susskind and Susskind probably take their case too far. They ignore the fact that, as people get richer, they choose to spend their surplus wealth on the human touch. Students, for instance, compete to get into elite colleges with high teacher-student ratios (and rich parents hire more and more personal tutors for their children to increase their chances of so doing).

It is an interesting comment because it is precisely wrong. The fact that the 1% can afford bespoke legal services, provided by highly paid customer service experts, does little to undermine the Susskinds’ claim. Legal technology will not make lawyers obsolete, the way that the automobile make buggy whip makers obsolete. What it will do is to automate the routine tasks the lawyer. The routines might include things like research and drafting basic documents. And, these documents might be client letters and court documents. Lawyers will not be replaced, but the gains in efficiency will mean that few (perhaps far fewer) will be needed. Off-the-rack legal services will become increasing popular because the average person will not need or desire to pay a high premium for customized service where it is totally unnecessary and gives no advantage. The reason that person contact with a professor is valuable to those who can afford it is that the professor can teach deeper insights not only about the subject matter of the class but about the meaning of the subject for the life of the student. That sort of extra value is not needed (or welcome) for someone who wants a valid will or to deal with a traffic ticket.

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