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The Future of Professions - Book Review

1 May 2016
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"The Future of Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts" is a collaborative work by Richard and Daniel Susskind, a father-son team. Richard Susskind, a prominent English professor and lawyer, has long championed the need for transformation in the legal profession. However, he has recognized the necessity for change across all specialized and expert-driven fields. Consequently, he joined forces with his economist son to create a comprehensive book on this subject.

 

The book explores the following key areas:

1. The current state of affairs and why it's insufficient.

2. Emerging opportunities.

3. Professions in their new configurations.

4. Pre-existing concerns and their subsequent outcomes.

5. Case Studies: Examples from the World of Health – A Future Gradually Becoming the Present.

 

Although the book's writing commenced in 2010, these ideas have been evolving over several years, and there's a distinct sense that these changes are now closer than ever. This transformation affects everyone, and these concepts should profoundly influence knowledge managers. Moreover, it alters the very essence of the services provided by various professionals and how we engage and deliver these services.

 

We invite you to delve into this thought-provoking book, which offers profound insights into the future of professions shaped by technology.

 

The current state of affairs and why it's no longer sufficient

Who are the professionals in question? Our vast world is home to numerous professions, each with its unique body of knowledge. However, it's unsurprising that common characteristics exist among them. In various ways, these diverse professions offer solutions to problems that individuals, with assistance, can comprehensively address. With their specialized expertise, professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others assist us in advancing in life. They possess knowledge, experience, skills, and know-how that non-professionals need to gain. As outlined by the authors of the book's subject matter, these various experts exhibit several common traits, some of which may overlap:

 

a. They possess unique knowledge.

b. Their professional certification typically involves training or, in many cases, a degree.

c. Their activities are often subject to regulation. [Note: This trait may only be necessary for some specialized professionals.]

d. They adhere to a shared set of values, such as the physician's oath or a code of ethics.

 

While some of the knowledge held by these professionals may be found in books and written sources, a substantial portion is grounded in real-world practice. Professionals recognize a duty to expand the boundaries of their field, fostering the development of new ideas and methods of operation. Professionals wield considerable influence; we rely on them, and their work today frequently hinges on meticulous attention to detail.

 

The current situation presents two significant issues:

a. Inefficiencies within the work of professionals impact prices due to dependence on individual experts.

b. Supply-related challenges. Dependence creates a scenario where not everyone can afford access to proficient experts, or in some cases, experts in general (for example, businesses attempting to manage contracts without legal representation).

 

Emerging opportunities

We have two daily opportunities that can profoundly reshape the landscape:

 

a. Rapidly advancing technology offers hardware and software with the potential to:

•   Automate tasks that, until recently, required human intervention. Examples include robots, monitors, workflow management software, and more.

•   Demonstrate the ability to "think," make decisions, and even generate new ideas. Software that determines optimal hotel room pricing to maximize occupancy or reviews literature case studies to identify common trends and recommend further studies is a prime illustration.

•   Facilitate the widespread sharing of information and knowledge, making it universally accessible, regardless of location.

•   Be more affordable than ever, with almost everyone having access to various digital platforms (smartphones, computers, etc.) anytime and from anywhere.

 

b. Knowledge and information, which multiply and serve as a central foundation for specialization, possess unique attributes distinct from other resources:

•   They are not depleted through use, akin to a candle that can illuminate one or a hundred more candles without diminishing its light.

•   They exhibit synergy, as the amalgamation of information and knowledge generates new insights, advancing expertise and problem-solving capabilities.

•   They can be recorded and stored digitally (unlike other resources like a chair). When accessed judiciously, they can sometimes be utilized even without an expert, providing solutions to our needs independently.

 

The convergence of technology with information and knowledge in an internet-centric society offers boundless opportunities if we can reorganize professions to harness these resources effectively. This fusion promises greater efficiency, expanded consumer reach, and fostered innovation, enabling the development of novel solutions that would otherwise remain beyond our grasp.

 

Professions in their new configurations

In a reimagined world, we witness a transformation in how professionals address the concerns that affect us:

 

Experts will still provide some responses. In some tasks, expertise will be partially merged with interns, support professionals, supplementary experts, machines, or even a collective of individuals with practical experience without specialization. Sometimes, specific tasks may not require an expert; instead, interns, support professionals, supplementary experts, colleagues, or even consumers will offer solutions to the needs.

 

These variations are numerous. For example, an expert might deliver services through platforms like Skype or make their knowledge accessible through cost-effective and readily available means, requiring minimal investment. A concrete illustration is in tax coordination. Until recently, individuals sought the assistance of expert professionals for such coordination. Today, freely accessible software enables us to perform this task online, often in minutes, without specialist involvement. Another example pertains to computer or life-related issues, where countless individuals who have encountered and resolved similar problems share their insights and solutions.

 

How can we achieve such a transformative state? It begins with thoroughly examining all work processes within each specialized profession. Each process is broken down into sub-tasks, and we explore the potential for automation, replacing the expert's role with hardware or software. We consider whether it is feasible to define an algorithm, transferring some or all of its components to a machine or someone less experienced. We assess whether there is an advantage in delegating the task to another practitioner, either more cost-effective or specialized in that specific task. We investigate the possibility of making information and knowledge accessible to the public in an understandable format, enabling informed decision-making or precise engagement with an expert when specific data or symptoms are present. We explore the viability of delivering services over the Internet, enhancing their accessibility and efficiency (similar to the immediate global examination of X-rays by professionals). Can collective wisdom contribute? And are there innovative technologies capable of enhancing responses? Each affirmative answer propels us toward the reinvented landscape of professions.

 

Pre-existing concerns and their subsequent outcomes

Embarking on the transition to the future generation is no simple task, and several concerns are significant:

 

1. There needs to be more unease about the overwhelming volume of internet information and knowledge and our ability to utilize it effectively.

2. Information on various subjects remains inaccessible to the public in an understandable manner, hindering informed decision-making.

3. Anxiety surrounds the potential loss of the personal touch and emotional connection that in-person professionals provide, extending beyond mere professional responses.

4. There needs to be more certainty regarding the erosion of human values and ethics as tasks become increasingly automated for efficiency, raising concerns about declining quality.

5. The foremost concern is the fear of expertise becoming obsolete and livelihoods being jeopardized.

 

Are these fears justified? The authors argue that not all concerns are valid, highlighting the nuanced nature of these issues. For instance, is a doctor always more empathetic than a machine? Can an artist trust a human more than a machine to detect anomalies in an X-ray? The future of livelihoods remains uncertain, with some specialties possibly fading away. However, this also creates opportunities for emerging roles like knowledge engineers, process analysts, UX (user experience) experts, IT professionals, big data scientists, etc. Expertise will persist, adapting to new technological directions.

 

Ultimately, the future is approaching, whether embraced or feared. Its arrival is inevitable, facilitated by existing means; now, what's required is the will to embrace and navigate this evolving landscape.

 

Case Studies: Examples from the World of Health – A Future Gradually Becoming the Present

In addition to the previously described theoretical and methodological concepts, the authors provide practical illustrations of the Mishna concept spanning approximately 50 pages. These examples encompass various fields, such as medicine, education, theology (including rabbinate and clergy), law, journalism, management consulting, taxation and accounting, and architecture. Here's a summary of the ideas presented in the realm of medicine, some of which are already part of our reality, while others are envisioned for the near future:

 

1. Personal Medical Records: Individuals maintain comprehensive medical files, allowing proactive health management—online platforms like NHS Choices or WEBMED offer accurate information on symptoms and treatment options. People receive personal health alerts and access a vast network of over a million available doctors.

 

2. Smart Analysis of Medical Tests: Artificial intelligence systems and smart algorithms analyze medical tests to detect diseases, viruses, or tumors, reducing false detection rates. IBM's Watson, for instance, aids in cancer detection and treatment recommendations.

 

3. Smart Research: Systems like IBM's KnIT scan and generate hypotheses from millions of articles, contributing to research efforts, including studies on hormones and migraines.

 

4. Blurring Roles: The roles of medical professionals, including nurses and non-doctor caregivers, become increasingly intertwined. Trained personnel may have diagnostic tools and treatment capabilities, with nurses gaining more authority to prescribe medications and perform minor surgeries.

 

5. Tele-Health: Video technology enables remote medical tasks, allowing radiologists and specialists to diagnose and provide guidance online. Advanced robots and video systems facilitate collaboration among surgical teams thousands of kilometers apart.

 

6. Remote Monitoring and Diagnosis: Tools for remote monitoring and diagnosis are increasing, allowing patients to send data directly to their doctors. Innovations like smart contact lenses for blood sugar monitoring are emerging.

 

7. Mobile Health (mHealth): Various products, systems, and apps are emerging in mobile health technology. For instance, BlueStar offers FDA-approved diabetes monitoring via mobile phones, providing real-time data to doctors and sending reminders to patients and healthcare providers about medication schedules.

 

8. Big Data for Patient Insights: Algorithms developed by the Mayo Clinic analyze vast datasets to predict and warn of potential medical issues. Wearable devices collect data on various aspects of health, providing insights into patients' well-being.

 

9. Online Communities: Platforms like PatientLikeMe facilitate information-sharing among individuals with medical conditions. Doctors connect on networks like Sermo or QuantiaMD to share studies and cases and communicate professionally.

 

10. Mass Medicine: Internet communities provide a platform for individuals to seek support and treatment ideas. For instance, CrowdMed allows people to publish symptoms, with doctors from an online community providing diagnoses based on descriptions.

 

11. 3D Printing: 3D printing technology enables the production of various objects, including dentures and organ models, for surgical practice. Researchers are exploring the possibility of printing entire organs.

 

12. Genome Sequencing: Technological advancements enable tailored medical treatments based on a patient's DNA. Genome sequencing, once costly, is now affordable, and gene modification is becoming more feasible.

 

13. Smart Medical Robots: Robots assist patients, including those with paralysis, and aid medical professionals in various tasks. Some robots, like PARO, comfort dementia and Alzheimer's patients, while others assist autistic children. Engineers are developing robots to serve as companions for patients in hospitals.

 

These technological innovations are transforming the medical field, promising improved healthcare and new approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and patient care.

 

 


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