What does the Future of Work look like? These authors have a very vivid idea.

A book review of the book The Future Of The Professions.

Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash


In 'The Future of The Professions', the father-son pair Richard and Daniel Susskind try to make the argument, that professions currently are an inefficient way of dispersing expertise and that due to this reason, there will be an alternate(primarily technological) means through which expertise will be distributed.

In their words:

In relation to our current professions, we argue that the professions will undergo two parallel sets of changes. The first will be dominated by automation. Traditional ways of working will be streamlined and optimized through the application of technology. The second will be dominated by innovation. Increasingly capable systems will transform the work of professionals, giving birth to new ways of sharing practical expertise. In the long run this second future will prevail, and our professions will be dismantled incrementally.

As someone interested in the future of work, I tend to share the belief that professions will be dramatically (and are currently) changed by the upcoming wave of automation. So far, there is evidence of it taking place already. The authors describe the vast changes taking place to be not merely as a result of automation, but due to various technologies and processes.

That said, it often felt as if the authors were advocating the shift towards decentralization rather than merely predicting it taking place. The truth is that if decentralization will serve the consumer far better than professionals currently do (and it just may), then we should have no problem with the “liberalization of expertise” as they put it.

While the authors criticize professionals (rightly so) for shielding themselves from the ‘necessary’ liberation of expertise, it often comes across as the efforts of two lobbyists seeking to steer the conversation in a particular direction.

Furthermore, the authors rarely make note of the ethical issues of knowledge systems themselves. Many cases of bias, for example, are indeed legitimate. And, yet, the issue doesn’t pop up once concerning its presence in these systems.

When I got my hands on GPT-3 I realized how shockingly easy it was(before the content filtering feature) to produce results that were biased against a certain group. Training models on vast amounts of information may mean that these models pick up on unconscious biases held within society. These biases then impact the impartiality these systems are supposed to have. Most people rarely think about this, but they should. Every piece of code is an ethical issue.

Ethical concerns within the book are limited to critiques they may receive from other professionals. As such there was a whole section of the book dedicated to these “objections”. But perhaps this is far more of an issue stemming from when the book was published.

Algorithmic bias wasn’t something talked about as much just 5 years ago.

As such, this may indicate the depth with which AI has entered the conversation. Hence, making their prediction of a world full of “Increasingly pervasive machines” very accurate.

The book was marketed as a casual read on the Future Of Work. What I found instead, was a Text-Book of sorts. This wasn’t bad, but my mind hadn’t prepared itself for the density of information it was packed with.

In the beginning, it also felt like there were elements of incoherence in the writing of the book. Furthermore, the distinct lack of voice was a bit hard to get adjusted to. But I did and would find the predictions and models they’d come up with very insightful. Something I genuinely appreciated was that I was able to make quick references on things I wanted to know more about.

Another issue I had pertained the belief in incremental innovation. As the Pandemic made clear, the rate of adoption of truly necessary technologies has far more to do with social crises. As we find now, despite the vast pervasiveness of AI in our lives, models proved incapable of adjusting to crises and a change in behavioral patterns. Incremental innovation doesn’t necessarily mean long-lasting or meaningful innovation. What seems to be longstanding are those adoptions that take place due to social crises.

For all its flaws the book takes a deep dive into what professions mean for society, what they offer us, and where they fail. It asks that the readers question the existing social contract and requests that they think harder about how we can make the distribution of important information more efficient.

They posit that in a world where we can remove the middle man from the equation, we’ll have instances where we can provide and receive services at a far cheaper cost.

Of course, this is merely my brief review of the book. But if you want a more in-depth perspective on the “meat” of the book, feel free to subscribe to my notes. In there you’ll find Mind Maps of the contents of the book as well as the core elements of the book itself. This particular note is something I am making free so make sure to check it out. So make sure to check it out if you’re interested in knowing (and learning) more.

The Future Of The Professions isn’t a great book to read if you’re seeking a casual read. But if you want some of the best analysis on the path forward regarding the nature of jobs and the Future of Work, it’s a book you absolutely must read, even if it means merely glossing through a couple of pages or checking it as a book of reference once every month.

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