In a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are automating everything, many question what the future of work will look like. Will technology create a more efficient version of what we have today? Or will we see a gradual replacement of professionals by increasingly capable systems?
Speaking to a full house in his keynote at Xerocon London, technologist and law expert, Richard Susskind OBE, considered the answers and their implications on accountancy.
Common patterns of change over the ages
As someone at the forefront of the technological evolution of professional services for decades, Richard penned his first book on computer systems and their ability to engage in legal reasoning in the late 1980s. He has since observed resistance to technology across his career.
“I remember an outrageous claim I made in the mid 1990s,” he said at Xerocon. “That lawyers and clients would communicate dominantly in the future by email. Many said I was bringing the profession into disrepute.”
Today, while Richard sees professions evolving at a different pace, he also sees common patterns around four key areas of influence: exponential growth in underpinning technologies, increasingly capable machines, pervasive devices and human connectivity.
“Our machines, our systems, are becoming increasingly capable,” he said. “We have to anticipate that much of what we used to do as human beings – that only human beings could do – can now be done by machines.”
Routinised systems injected with human experience
With this shift, Richard says, you can either compete against or learn to develop alongside new systems that will replace our old ways of working. We will start to move to a professional model where we standardise processes – creating checklists, procedures, manuals and practice guides – via platforms and automatic workflow systems.
Where professional service experts currently offer bespoke advice, they will find new ways to embed human expertise into our systems to enable one-to-many relationships. Richard went on to imagine one scenario where we, as a society, will create a Wikipedia style commons for the use of everyone.
“It’s the digitisation of professional services,” he said, “and we have the opportunity to use technology in new and imaginative ways to make it happen.”
The way to know your future is to build your future
In an internet society, Richard argues, we’ll neither need nor want accountants to work as they did in the twentieth century. By considering the implications of technology and automation today, we can establish the framework for a prosperous future.
“We are in the privileged position to have been born in a time that’s seen greater technological progress than the world has ever known,” he said.
“Might it be time to think about what you can do with that?”