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May Day and the march of the machines

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Jemy Gatdula

Being Right

What Press Freedom’s For

What should be utopia could become dystopian.

So Bloomberg reports that “almost half of all jobs could be wiped out or radically altered in the next two decades due to automation.”

And these “changes in employment will hit some workers more than others — particularly young people with lower levels of education and women who are more likely to be under-employed and working in low paid jobs” (“Automation Could Wipe Out Almost Half of All Jobs in 20 Years,” 25 April 2019).

To the glee of some, the “hit” includes the legal profession. The World Economic Forum (“This AI outperformed 20 corporate lawyers at legal work,” 15 Nov. 2018) relates how “a group of 20 experienced lawyers [was challenged] to test their skills and knowledge against its AI-powered algorithm.”

“When it came to speed, the AI far surpassed the legal minds, taking just 26 seconds to review all five documents compared to the lawyers’ average speed of 92 minutes.”

The WEF thus goes on to point out that 23% of a lawyer’s function can now be duplicated by artificial intelligence. However, it is posited here that more likely another 25% could be removed from lawyers due to technology as a whole.




This indicates that the law profession and legal education are strongly invited to change and adapt as efficiently and quickly as possible.

In which case, the proper direction for legal education is not technical specialization at the law school level but rather one that will lead to a profession that is more analytical, capable of melding different disciplines, and can lead in identifying opportunities or open strategic possibilities rather than mere solutions.

This would in greater probability entail either far far fewer but far far better lawyers.

The other route is to bifurcate the profession, either by competence or expertise (e.g., Britain’s solicitor/barrister model or medicine’s fellow/diplomate stratification).

The better strategy seems to be both: develop better lawyers first, then bifurcate the profession.

But for overall, the effects of automation seem indeed bleak. Particularly because not many have gone beyond the stage of accepting there is indeed a problem.

assembly line factory

This matter of automation should be an election issue, considering the likely damage it could cause to Philippine levels of employment and economic development if not managed properly.

That is within the current context of 2.2 million Filipinos unemployed, around 5 million underemployed, and 10 million Filipinos forced to go overseas due to lack of comparable work.

A paper by the Center for Global Development’s Lukas Schlogl and Andy Sumner (see “Economists worry we aren’t prepared for the fallout from automation,” The Verge, 02 July 2018) precisely asked if we are “focusing too much on analyzing exactly how many jobs could be destroyed by the coming wave of automation, and not enough on how to actually fix the problem?”

Both Schlogl and Sumner “say it’s impossible to know exactly how many jobs will be destroyed or disrupted by new technology. But, they add, it’s fairly certain there are going to be significant effects — especially in developing economies, where the labor market is skewed toward work that requires the sort of routine, manual labor that’s so susceptible to automation. Think unskilled jobs in factories or agriculture.”

Interestingly, Schlogl and Sumner “think the effects of automation on these and other nations is not likely to be mass unemployment, but the stagnation of wages and polarization of the labor market.”

Yet, at the other end of the employment spectrum, “there will continue to be a small number of rich and super-rich individuals who reap the benefits of increased productivity created by technology.”

Overall, the “changes will likely mean a decline in job security and standards of living for many, which in turn could lead to political dissatisfaction.”

So how should automation be confronted?

Some opt for deceleration in reliance on machines. And there have been calls, for example, to rid fast-food centers of computerized wait staff, as a start. Another option is to look to retraining of people and enable a shift to different industries.

Both are unworkable, the former for being nearly impossible to implement and the latter for being too slow regarding results and overly demanding on the workers involved.

So while viable solutions are still being sought, nevertheless, Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says (“Automation Is An Opportunity Not A Threat, Says Top U.K. Engineering Academic,” 11 July 2018, Forbes): “People should look at the ongoing transformation from a prism of not how many jobs will go, but rather at the changing nature and scope of roles and tasks. We should be optimistic that there would be many new jobs created partly through the fact that technology would enable us to do things we could not previously do.”

Most importantly, “we all need to have a degree of humility when it comes to the subject of predicting the skills that we need for the future.”

 

Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

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