Lawyers, Artificial Intelligence And Creative Destruction

I’m a bit behind on my posting, so this is dated by a couple of days, but there are a couple of articles and an opinion piece by Paul Krugman that I highly recommend.

The first is a piece that appeared in the NY Times. It’s a review of the threat that artificial intelligence poses for the legal profession. On one level, it is a fascinating review of the advances in computer logic that obviate the need for legions of attorneys to perform document review. More to the point, however, is the impact that these technological leaps will have on numerous mid-level occupations.

Paul Krugman recognized the importance of the article and produced one of his best (IMO) posts in a long time. He notes that not only are good jobs subject to being usurped by computers but that the likelihood is that combined with advances in communications, a lot of heretofore “safe” occupations are increasingly subject to being outshored. Krugman rightly points out that the belief that education and lots of it is the only means of providing for a secure future may well be a false promise.

I usually avoid reading Krugman as his excellent analysis too often falls prey to his overriding political philosophy. He doesn’t disappoint in this piece as he concludes that a new union movement is the only way to save ourselves. He does fail to explain just how a unionization is supposed to work in a supposedly shrinking jobs market.

Now, along comes Walter Russell Mead to tie things together. He looks beyond the threats implicit in the automation of work to the possibilities they portend and wraps them in his ongoing series about the collapse of the “blue social model.” His view is that we are confronting a post-industrial world that will affect changes as life altering as those confronted by those living during the advent of the industrial revolution.

Mead suggests that we need new ways of looking at how we do things from government to education. Rather than viewing the changes as threats, he suggests that we have to lose our reflexive thinking and embrace change in conventional ways of doing things in order to cope with this new world. He doesn’t profess to have all of the answers but believes, as do I, that the process of creative destruction is unavoidable and that the American citizen is better prepared than most around the Globe to cope and profitably adjust to the changes.

This is the sort of stuff that I used to consider hopelessly futuristic. As I see states public employee unions on the verge of being neutered, China preparing to compete with Boeing and Americans seeking cheaper medical services in developing countries and computers winning at Jeopardy, I’m ready to concede that the future is arriving rather more quickly than we might have guessed or are prepared to deal with.

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