“The human brain is an impressive and dexterous organ. It would be strange indeed if markets, given room to experiment with new technologies, couldn’t devise ways to combine man and machine in fruitful—and profitable—new ways.”

November 20th, 2011

An Economist write-up of Race Against the Machine, which I blogged about here. These predictions apply equally to the legal profession.

Watson, the IBM supercomputer which dazzled audiences in throttling human competition on the game show “Jeopardy!”, is now being adapted for use in medical diagnoses. Autonomous vehicles, such as the Google creations that have logged some 140,000 miles on American roads, could make transport dramatically cheaper, safer and more efficient. The long-awaited wonders of the space age may finally be at hand.

There will also be growing pains. Technology allows firms to offshore back-office tasks, for instance, or replace cashiers with automated kiosks. Powerful new systems may threaten the jobs of those who felt safe from technology. Pattern-recognition software is used to do work previously accomplished by teams of lawyers. Programmes can do a passable job writing up baseball games, and may soon fill parts of newspaper sections (those not sunk by free online competition). Workers are displaced, but businesses are proving slow to find new uses for the labour made available. Those left unemployed or underemployed are struggling to retrain and catch up with the new economy’s needs.

As a result, the labour force is polarising. Many of those once employed as semi-skilled workers are now fighting for low-wage jobs.

The key is to train the lawyers of tomorrow with the skills they need to prosper in the legal profession of the tomorrow.

Tyler Cowen comments about comparisons to The Great Stagnation here.