National Academy Report On Need for Strategy to Understand Impact of Technology on Economy and Employment Suggests Need to Go Further

As reported in the New York Times, and elaborated in Nature, a panel of the National Academies has called for a national approach to data to understand and manage the impact of technology on the economy and jobs.  As Nature puts it:

For instance, although digital technologies underpin many consumer services, standard US government data sources — such as the Current Population Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — don’t accurately capture the rise of the contingent or temporary workforce because they do not ask the right questions. Researchers and private-sector economists have tried to address this by commissioning their own surveys2, but these lack the scale, scope and credibility of government surveys. Government administrative data, such as tax forms, provide another potentially valuable data source, but these need to be integrated with government survey data to provide context and validation3.

Similarly lacking are metrics to track progress in the technologies and capabilities of AI. Moore’s law (that microprocessor performance doubles every two years or so) captures advances in the underlying semiconductors, but it does not cover rapid improvements in areas such as computer vision, speech and problem solving. A comprehensive index of AI would provide objective data on the pace and breadth of developments. Mapping such an index to a taxonomy of skills and tasks in various occupations would help educators to design programmes for the workforce of the future. Non-governmental groups, such as the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University in California, are taking useful steps, but much more can and should be done at the federal level.

No argument there.  Indeed, this data will be hugely helpful in maximizing access to justice by helping move forward with the redeployment of roles and the focusing of higher skills on the situations in which they are needed.  In fact the data approach described above is very similar to our own triage data philisophy, that focuses on what tasks need to be done to present a case, and what role is appropriate to have that done.

But, as we also well know in the access to justice field, it is not enough to think in terms of automation and displacement of tasks by machines and AI, but to think of the restructuring of what is actually done.  Forms completion programs should be lessening the need for paralegals.  But taking conflict resolution out of individualized fact gathering is going to have far greater impact.

It is certainly the case that even without such a radical change, the job of court clerk, for example, is going to almost disappear in the next couple of decades, and be replaced with a data management and security role.  But what if technology lets us see conflicts in far broader contextual terms.  Will there be a need for people who can help people understand that.  To put it another way, what will legitimize decisions in the future?  Not paper flow, that is for sure.

I still think that the jobs will be there for overview thinkers and for human connectors.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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