August 21, 2017

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

The%20Future%20of%20the%20ProfessionsThe 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.

Richard 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.

 

Rhodes_4For 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.