What scares me in an age of exponentiality, is not that the machines are learning, adapting, and changing. It is that many humans aren’t.
Back in the day, before I became a futurist, my parents told me I should either become a lawyer (which I ended up doing), a banker or a doctor. Because, at the time, all of those professionals were secure, well-paid and socially respected. Well, at least some of them. But now, you have to ask yourself the question if you are lawyer or a parent advising on its merits: What is the Future of Law? Of course, now, all of the above service professions are under threat from digitisation, machine learning, automation and roboticisation.
Think about the online doctors or lawyers now available. In Australia, online-only law firm LegalVision has been operating since 2014, offering the services of Australian-based lawyers who work from home, and offer fixed rates and a fast turnaround time. Even JPMorgan is starting to replace its in-house lawyers and paralegal capabilities with its Contract Intelligence (or COIN). The JPMorgan program was used, for example, to interpret commercial-loan agreements that, when done by human lawyers and loan officers, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year. COIN reviewed the documents in seconds, with fewer errors. And law firm Allen & Overy have launched MarginMatrix to help banks deal with derivatives regulatory requirements in the US.
Machines are now doing the kind of grunt work that lawyers like me, fresh out of uni, were given as a way of learning the profession (while being told that this manual work was good for your soul).
Trend: Artificial intelligence is coming for us all
Today and over the next few years, artificial intelligence (AI) will do to our brains what robots have already been doing to our brawns. And it’s not just those services that focus on numbers (such as banking and accountants) that are being automated and digitised. Creative and knowledge work is also being affected by AI.
Every professional services company today is a technology firm, just with a specific licence to operate in the traditional service space they have known. If you’re in banking, for example, your bank is a technology company with a banking licence.
This growing focus on technology is shown in the way companies allocate their funds, with IT budgets now increasingly spread throughout an organisation. According to 2012 figures from Gartner, in 2000, technology spending outside of IT in an organisation was 20 per cent of the company’s total spend on technology. By the end of this decade, 90 per cent of funds spent on technology will be focused outside of the IT department. Why? Because every company and every function is now in technology, and technology is no longer the exclusive hermitage of IT.
5 questions to help your business respond to automation
The increasing use of roboticisation, automation and artificial intelligence brings with it many pressures and questions. Knowing how rapidly to launch into changes, and where to focus your funds and energy can be difficult. To unleash your inner futurist, and get thinking about where your efforts might have the biggest impact, think about the following:
- Is your firm changing at least as rapidly as your most demanding client? Instead of thinking of this client as one you would prefer to be rid of, think about what they’re demanding and why. Is this something every client will be expecting in the near future?
- What percentage of your work today involves frequent, high-volume tasks? These are the sort of tasks most at risk of automation, so you want to reduce your focus on them.
- What percentage of your work involves complex problem-solving of novel situations? These are the kinds of task that are more difficult to automate and more difficult to program AI to work on. So these are the tasks you want to be building your expertise in.
- Are you training the leaders of tomorrow for jobs that won’t exist? Try to think 20 years into the future and do a pre-mortem on your business. Will it even still be around if you don’t make changes?
- What tasks in your business ought not be handled by machines? This is where ethics, human empathy and personal connection come in, areas again difficult to code for with AI. At least for now.
So, are you one of those humans who just won’t learn, adapt or change? I hope not. If so, the robot overlords are coming for you. Here is my take on The Future of Professional services during my keynote to the Australian partners of KPMG.
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