Recently, the founder of a startup company was trying to sell an accounting technology solution to my colleague. His exact words were, “this tool will save you the cost of hiring an accountant.”
Every day, somewhere across the planet, groups of people are working hard to build something to make work and life easier. And the more they succeed, the less relevant some skills and professions become. According to the authors of, Future of Employment, “only 1% of tax preparation work is estimated to be safe from computerization”. As at April 2020 about 95.7 percent of US citizens prepared their taxes with online software instead of with the help of a tax accountant.
So is advancement in technology gradually pushing traditional professionals such as lawyers, auditors and architects to points of saturation? What does this say about the future of these professions? Before we move on share some opinions and facts on these questions, be sure to subscribe to After School TV for more insightful videos like this.
Is there a Threat on Professional Fields?
Few months ago, my younger brother designed the plan and oversaw the construction of a standard 5 bedroom duplex… without a degree in Architecture or civil engineering. He taught himself to use AutoCAD software and developed his construction skill from years of apprenticeship with a construction and engineering company. He had designed countless building plans and supervised a number of them, to the point that he could start and finish a project from scratch. Wasn’t that how our forefathers learned their crafts in the past?
We’ve always needed professionals because we need skilled and knowledgeable people to turn to when we need to do complex things that most people cannot do; like build a house, diagnose illnesses or educate your children. These people supposedly don’t simply memorize knowledge from textbooks and journals; they also know how to tailor that knowledge to each task they work on. They stay current with developments in their field, and aim to maintain a high standard of quality.
We think of professions like clubs; members decide who gets in, and set the standards for training, examinations and required credentials. Typically, a professional knows more about their field than the average person. They even tend to use jargons and high sounding words to maintain professional superiority, and discourage laypeople from seeking self-help or self-discovery.
But… expert knowledge is no longer exclusive to a group of professional gatekeepers. Today the internet has created new ways for the average person to access skills, and share knowledge and information that was once exclusive to experts. And technology tools have made skills like designing a building plan much easier.
Now people can diagnose mild symptoms or learn how to file taxes online. Online communities, video tutorials and even the rise of online universities have opened the floodgates of knowledge for countless people around the world. However, professionals tend to resist these changes that dilute the exclusive power they once had in their chosen fields. Some people will be outraged that someone without a degree in architecture or civil engineering is involved in construction. But that’s the new reality people will need to accept.
How Advanced Technology is Disrupting Professions
Thanks to technology, we are entering into the age of easy access to professional service. The larger population that could normally not afford expensive professional services are getting exposed to reliable services and knowledge on the go. For instance, telemedicine allows a patient to have a video consultation with a doctor without an in-person meeting.
Also, automation is becoming more important as certain tasks become too complex to be carried out by professionals alone. For instance, there are now over 13,000 known diseases, 6,000 drugs and 4,000 medical procedures – far too much information for one professional to master. Ebay’s online dispute resolution system resolves three times more disputes in one year than there are legal complaints filed with courts in the entire United States.
Few people enjoy the process of filing taxes. But individuals, as well as businesses already have technology solutions for filing taxes. In the UK, for example, small businesses that previously depended on accountants for monitoring their cash flow now use online software. The software keeps track of a company’s finances and updates tax documents as the year progress so that the return is set to go once the fiscal year has ended.
Tax advisor, Deloitte, distilled the knowledge of some 250 tax specialists into one digitized system. The system is now used by companies all over the world for tax purposes. According to the company, “tax professionals must learn to leverage new technologies and cultivate the capabilities they need for the digital future.”
As technology progresses, more and more tasks will be performed by non-specialists. Today, Computer-aided design software, which is by far better and more efficient than hand-drawn plans, enables hobby architects to design more detailed, complex projects. Resulting designs can be more easily shared and reused than can traditional hand-drawn plans. Technology is increasingly making professional expertise more readily available to the layman, threatening certain professional positions.
Big Data and Complex systems
With the growing interaction with digital applications, society now generates as much data every two days as was generated from the beginning of time up until 2003. That’s a huge distinction. From these gigantic data sets – known as Big Data – we can extrapolate intelligent and useful information about human behavior, society and the world.
This big data gives business leaders and entrepreneurs unprecedented amounts of information and the analytic tools for improved decision-making. Today, Big data techniques can identify and predict patterns from very large data sets. This sort of processing power is highly valuable in today’s business world. It is expected that financial advisors and accounting professionals will use the same tools to move from data entry, recordkeeping and simple analysis to strategic business consultancy.
Also, supercomputers with extraordinary computing power can even perform increasingly human-like tasks. For example, IBM developed the Artificial Intelligent program – Watson – that now helps diagnose cancer and develops treatment plans, partly by comparing a patient’s symptoms to a database of over 10 million patient health records.
Watson also helps conduct research, as it can read and process information much faster than can any human. Considering that the medical field publishes a new professional paper every 41 seconds, no doctor can possibly keep up with such a mass of information – but Watson can.
As Professions Evolve, New Jobs are Created
The traditional role of professionals as gatekeepers to exclusive information in a certain field is long over. However, contrary to the fears of many, technology won’t lead to a decrease in the number of professional jobs. While technology has partly automated traditional ways of working, it has also given rise to completely new skills and forms of employment.
But professionals need to be flexible and adapt to the new possibilities that technology brings. And a good place to start – as described by Darrell West author of The Future of Work – is to revisit the underlying fundamentals of professionalism. True professionalism bothers on affirmation and proclamation of what an individual or group of individuals believe in and stand for. Professionalism is not a function of hoarding knowledge but of professing and spreading it. Knowledge spreads naturally and becomes more valuable as it reaches more people.
You don’t lose what you know when you share your knowledge with someone else. Unlike physical goods, knowledge is nonrival, meaning its value doesn’t decrease when it’s shared. In fact, the opposite occurs. Knowledge actually grows when it’s shared.
A teacher, for instance, improves with each school year. The more a teacher practices sharing her knowledge and engaging her students, the better she gets at conveying information and making it stick. After teaching for several years, a teacher might even distill the insight she’s gained into a book, passing her knowledge along even further.
Knowledge is also non-excludable, meaning it’s not possible to prevent someone from using it. When a doctor advises a patient on how to deal with an illness, the patient can decide to pass that knowledge on to whomever they choose. Think about the people you know to be experts in their fields. Are they not those that have actively shared their knowledge with the public or writing books?
The shift from a print-based to internet-based information society has further facilitated the creation, access and spread of knowledge. In 2000, only 20 percent of the world’s information was stored digitally. Today, that figure is around 98 percent. So the strategy of hoarding information is no longer effective. As a professional, you can equally get your work into the world much more easily, if you choose to do so.
If you found this video helpful, like and share it with someone. If you are yet to subscribe to After School TV, now is a good time to hit the subscribe button. Until next time, YOUR SUCCESS MATTERS!