Professionals now face automation

Artificial intelligence has long been the promise of the computer industry’s future, but until recently it has been characterised by a failure to deliver on almost all fronts. But there is now a serious risk to the professional classes that over the next decade their right to power, status and money will be challenged by a competitor that they cannot beat.

The way this is coming about is not as we might have expected. Take  as an example ‘e-discovery’ software.

In 1978 there was a court case in America in which over 6 million documents had to be examined at a cost of $2.2m, much of it being done by a small army of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates.

In a similar case today ‘e-discovery’ software has analysed 1.5 million documents for just $100,000.  And these intelligent  discovery products go well beyond simple key word searching and are capable of extracting relevant concepts and spotting relationships that would seldom be picked up by their human counter parts.

As computers become better at mimicking human reasoning skills they are increasingly challenging the people in high powered, well paid jobs. It has been estimated by Mike Lynch (founder of Autonomy) that the software enable 1 lawyer to do the job of 500, and to do it at least twice as well.

The government is lending money to students on the basis that they only have to pay it back if they get well paid jobs.  It is not obvious which degree courses are most likely to provide a secure return on these loans!