Richard and Daniel Susskind gave a talk a few ago about the effect of automation on the professions. It is somewhat apocalyptic in tone. They told their audience that the professions were simply not ready for the very radical changes which robotic technology was going to bring.
"We are facing greater disruption and transformation in the next two decades than we have had in the past century," says Richard Susskind
They were not talking about robots donning wigs and making appearances in court, but they were referring to the very significant capability of technology in changing the way that the professions work. Document reviews carried out by armies of lawyers can now be carried out at a fraction of the cost by technology running sophisticated artificial intelligence programmes. Ross, IBM’s “super intelligent” attorney can scan the whole global body of law in seconds and often answer questions that it used to take lawyers hours to answer. Riverview Law have launched a virtual assistant called Kim which they say can help in managing caseloads.
There is of course significant scepticism about what AI can actually do (and many senior partners in the professions simply believe this is the stuff of science fiction), but the evidence of the past 20 years demonstrates how quickly the world can change. 20 years ago there was no YouTube (which has in fact been around for only 10 years), Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Zoopla. In 1996 Google was starting out as a research project! There were also a significant number of people who did not have mobile phones.
Businesses all over the world are facing a number of challenges, but it seems to be those who look to the future and embrace technological changes which thrive. Lawyers and accountants, who may be traditionally conservative, would do well to seize the possibilities as well as the challenges which the latest technology offers, as we try to imagine what the world of professional services will look like in 2036.