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Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the tell-me-when-neo-takes-his-pill dept.

Education 622

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times that information technology seems to be reducing, not increasing, the demand for highly educated workers (reg. may be required), because a lot of what highly educated workers do could actually be replaced by sophisticated information processing. One good recent example is how software is replacing the teams of lawyers who used to do document research. 'From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,' says Bill Herr, a lawyer at a major chemical company who used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. 'People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don't.' If true this raises a number of interesting questions. 'One is whether emphasizing education — even aside from the fact that the big rise in inequality has taken place among the highly educated — is, in effect, fighting the last war,' writes Krugman. 'Another is how we [can] have a decent society if and when even highly educated workers can't command a middle-class income.' Remember the Luddites weren't the poorest of the poor, they were skilled artisans whose skills had suddenly been devalued by new technology."

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This is gonna be very rant like (5, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404348)

We don’t need less skilled and educated people. What we need are more skilled jobs to put them in. Obviously way easier said then done. As technology advances, certain jobs, even entire trades, are going to become obsolete. I don’t think technology is even close to a point where we can’t come up with something for the more intelligent chunks of society to do.

The whole damn system is broken! Everything has to be immediately profitable or at least have demonstratable potential for future profitability. We are very good at improving on the stuff we already have because of this, but we seem to suck at coming up with completely new stuff. A lot of the cool stuff we have now came out of the cold war, because the powers were throwing money at scientists in the hopes of getting something cool before the “other guy” did. We need some more of that. We need ridiculous amounts of money thrown at scientists and engineers with no stipulations or requirements to show progress. You’ll have some serious waste.. but I think you’ll come up with some neat stuff as well.

I also think as a society it’s time to move away from the 5+ day work week. We have enough technology now that there is no reason for the majority of the population to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week working. How we get the ball rolling on this one I don’t know. The economy seems to be geared more towards people working more than less. Remember back when having a two income family really put you on top. Then everyone started to do it and the economy adjusted. Now you need that just to get by. We need to do that in reverse then keep going!

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (4, Insightful)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404414)

Yes, the whole system is broken. I've been saying for years that we need to racially reform society as less and less work is available. Even though it will be a very long time (if ever) before computers can take over research for instance, they can take over pretty much any repetitive taks in the medium term, including many white collar jobs. I'm an advocate of instituting a basic income, so that everyone can can have a decent life even if there is no work available. The arguments against has always been that people won't want to work, but really those very few who don't want to work at all in a world were very little work is available shouldn't, leave it to those who do, they will be much more motivated.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404422)

s/racially/radically/ ?

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404444)

hah, yeah sorry :P I guess running it through a spell checker would be a good idea. To Chrome developers: allow me to switch spell-check language on the fly please!

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404498)

I guess running it through a spell checker would be a good idea.

Sadly, no. A spell checker would not have helped. You spelled "racially" correctly.

You need an intent checker, which you already have somewhere behind your forehead.


Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404560)

ARe yous prooof reding the internet agin?

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404610)

My intent checker is unfortunately out of service today..

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

todrules (882424) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404540)

Spell check wouldn't have caught that, since 'racially' is a real word.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404584)

True, it occured to me just as I hit the submit button.. Reading the post then would be a good idea. ;) (though it would also be nice to be able to edit Slashdot posts, at least for a few minutes after you first posted, maybe at the cost of loosing any positive mod points on the post)

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404670)

Nice catch. I was caught up in the writer's through flow that I also missed the "radically/racially" word substitution. I read "radically" somehow because the word fit the context.

On the other hand, racially somehow fits as well... Moan and complain about "racism" and how evil it is, but like it or not, the generalities seem to bear out. Yes, there are awesomely intelligent people of every type. No denying it. Yes, people of every type has nearly the same potential in every way. No denying it. But when you see a population decline in the groups of people "on top" or "in control" and a population rise in those we identify as "minorities" (as if that were even true any more) what we are seeing is a problem that stems from a decrease in the more educated and a decrease in the less. And it doesn't take much digging to see why -- people who are thoughtful have fewer children because they want to be able to provide for them adequately. People who are less thoughtful have more because they don't consider how they will be able to care for their children after they are born.

Is this a "race" problem? Not really... demographically it is, but technically, it isn't. But how can we get these non-white and non-asian groups of people to think and behave in ways that value education and knowledge? That's the problem.

(Currently, I am using my company's educational benefits to take some classes to get some certs and the majority of the people attending the classes are people who have no business in such courses! These individuals simply lack the aptitude to "get it" and are slowing down the class for the minority of people who are actually inclined to the material. To me it smells like a government plan intended to boost the number of "minority participants" in various employment market areas. Huge waste of money and of my time. Could these same individuals have excelled in this material if they were raised to appreciate education, knowledge and technology from the beginning? I believe so. But now these 30 and 40-somethings who have never had a knowledge-worker's background are somehow expecting to retrain themselves into a technology career? It is unimaginable to me and I would really like to see the general outcome of "these people" after they make their way through these "career retooling" class series.)

Personally, I don't care what race anyone is -- what I care about is whether or not they add to the value of society or detract from it.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404644)

This is called socialism and has been tried the world over many many times and NEVER works. Technology usually leads to more different forms of work.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

jabjoe (1042100) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404688)

Kind of like social benefits or welfare?
Have to say, even unemployed I'd still program, and I'd be doing much more open sourcey stuff than now.....;-)
I also have to say, what I see of people living lives of welfare, is there is a kind of hopelessness there. Like mass depression. The nasty-party/people-on-right say they are work shy or lazy, but I think many are depressed as much as anything. I know a few of the welfare kids on our street, and future jobs doesn't register. Even one, clearly mechanically gifted/skilled in some sense, the idea of working doing it hadn't even cross his mind. There is a feeling there is no jobs, and those that there are bad, don't pay well and go to other people anyway. The future is a dark hole, best think of today. No wonder so many get into trouble. But are they wrong? Is there future work for them? Personally, I feel, if we are paying people anyway, might as well extract value for that money, so in effect, a government job. Then use this work force for some inspiring projects, or at least social good projects. Love the idea of concentrating on GNH. []

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (2)

zwei2stein (782480) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404484)

Just reducing 5 work day week to 4 days could increase employment by 25% (and possibly more because you will have more going on in backoffice departments in every industry).

That is huge. That means workforce *shortage* even because very few countries have 20% rate on unemployment. No more busy-work even.

IIRC, Society actually went throught similar changes - saturday used to be work day too and 40 hour work week is considerably shorter than what was usual for factory workers 150 years ago.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

nine932038 (1934132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404506)

Just a note, but I'm pretty sure that keeping a low unemployment rate isn't actually one of the goals of government. I seem to remember reading some articles somewhere wherein the prevailing thought of economists was to keep the unemployment at around 10 percent, to ensure proper 'wage pressure' or somesuch.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (4, Interesting)

alexhard (778254) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404590)

That is not true. The target is to have no unemployment, which means having natural unemployment. That includes people between jobs, etc. and is generally thought to be in the 3-5% area.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

EsbenMoseHansen (731150) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404594)

Denmark had a period of very low unemployment recently. Believe, that is not something to be desired. The economy starts heating up very quickly, and the crash is not very pretty.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404660)

Sure, and if we start breaking windows, the glaziers will have an economy!

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404682)

I'm not sure I follow. Why would working one less day result in more employment? Why would more going on in back-office departments (I assume HR/CBO?) be good for the economy? It sounds like you're suggesting we produce less and spend more resources on management rather than producing useful goods/services or am I missing something?

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404500)

Your saying we need a major war to waste ridiculous amounts of money on, and there might be some incidental invention going on.
I'd rather IP laws were updated for the information age, and back to their roots of encouraging innovation.

As for your 3 day working week, forcing that by law would make your whole nation uncompetitive, and it won't happen any other way because it appears to be in equilibrium. That is most people are willing to work 5+ per week.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404606)

I'm not willing to work 5 day a week, "with cheerful readiness" comes no where near it.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404514)

The whole system isn't broken. Companies need to be profitable or they can't pay their debts, and they cease to exist. The problem with jobs (I believe you're referring to the USA) is that for every one of your skilled workers, there is another skilled worker in another country who can do the same exact job, except (s)he can do it at 10% the price, and can also afford to live at that salary.

Tell me how are you ever going to have a successful manufacturing industry when you can't produce goods competitively? And who is going to pay for your scientists and engineers to dream things up while other countries are busy working and building the next new things?

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404672)

Tell me how are you ever going to have a successful manufacturing industry when you can't produce goods competitively?

Massive increases in fuel prices making delivery of goods too expensive?

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (2)

nine932038 (1934132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404550)

I suspect that the ball is already rolling on this sort of social reform. There seems to be a trend back towards artisanal products and services - like artisan bakeries, or CSAs, or such - and it looks like people are getting more into the whole 'support local business' thing. In these cases, people are knowingly choosing products or services that are theoretically less efficient and less productive, but which has more emotional investment.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (3, Insightful)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404586)

Dare I say it, we also need to have imposed limits on childbirth.

People are living longer, therefore they are spending more of their retirement years reliant on state pensions and social care - to cover that additional expense, governments are raising the retirement age by a year or two.

That means that as well as there being less jobs due to technology, there are also less jobs because people work longer.

It's definitely the time to start restricting birth rates - maybe the planet can cope with a few billion more people, but not economically.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404626)

We need ridiculous amounts of money thrown at scientists and engineers with no stipulations or requirements to show progress

I immediately declare that I am a scientist / engineer and I need ridiculous amounts of money, because obviously, this is what's going to create more jobs for people - throwing money at some of them.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404638)

Regarding the five-day work week: I agree with you in principle, but I disagree with your premise. My impression is that most people who are employed in the United States are working more than 40 hours a week, and often more than five days a week.

As a first step, I think we should move *toward* a five-day, 40-hour work week.

I don't know what the solution is for folks who have found themselves able to survive only by working multiple part-time jobs, often for 50, 60, or more hours per week. This segment would benefit the most from being able to work a single job for 40 (or fewer) hours per week, at a wage that allows them to live with some modicum of security.

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404654)


Ishmael and My Ishamael by Daniel Quinn

Re:This is gonna be very rant like (1)

Americium (1343605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404664)

Remember back when having a two income family really put you on top. Then everyone started to do it and the economy adjusted. Now you need that just to get by. We need to do that in reverse then keep going!

It was the other way around, the economy started sucking to the point that you needed both people to work. More people working = more production and a richer society. Going off the gold standard in '73 made the dollar fall by ~60% overnight, and that's why you need two people to work now. Hell minimum wage was $1.50, or 1.5oz of silver, which is about $40 right now. Blame the government for destroying and squandering our wealth through inflation.

Not neccesarily (1)

zmughal (1343549) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404354)

I haven't read the article yet (typical), but I've heard the argument before many times. I am of the opinion that computers are just tools that will allow users to use their brains on the more important (and less programmable) task of analysis. Jobs of the future will be about handling large amounts of information, not examining each thing in a serial manner.

That was the best example? (4, Funny)

chill (34294) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404358)

I'm sorry, but if you're trying to garner sympathy for workers being displaced by technology, you're going to have to do better than lawyers.

Paraphrasing an old joke,

Q. What do you call an out of work lawyer?
A. A good start.

Reduce overhead (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404464)

I'm sorry, but if you're trying to garner sympathy for workers being displaced by technology, you're going to have to do better than lawyers.

Lawyers are just overhead costs: they don't produce anything, but you need a few around to keep everything running... But if you can safely reduce the costs of overhead, that's supposed to be a good thing.

The day that engineers can be replaced by computers we shall talk again. Until then, I just advise law-students to choose a new study while they can.

Re:That was the best example of a lawyer joke? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404512)

Q. What do you call 100 lawyers buried up to their necks in sand?

A. Not enough sand.

Re:That was the best example? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404596)

Q. What's the difference between a misfortune and a tragedy?

A. Example of a misfortune: a bus filled with lawyers goes over a cliff. Tragedy = there were three empty seats.

Surely it's a rising demand for brains (2)

tomalpha (746163) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404370)

If the article is explaining how lawyers are being replaced with programmers. Someone's got to create and maintain the software that replaces these "educated" people. Surely these are just a different set of educated people? That really does sound similar to the Luddites. It's not that there's no longer any demand for skills, it's that there's a demand for different skills.

And just to take an (only half joking ) swipe at lawyers, surely this means an increase in demand for brains?

Re:Surely it's a rising demand for brains (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404472)

Well, getting rid of troves of people going through documents to essentially look for a few keywords is not replacing "highly educated workers". Well, maybe it is, but it is "replacing highly educated workers in no-intelligence-required jobs and instead let it do a computer with the appropriate level of intelligence (i.e. none)".
Which is like when arts majors suddenly couldn't get any jobs as taxi drivers and you would conclude that demand for "highly educated arts majors" was declining. Hint: just because people were employed by itself doesn't mean there was a need for the skills they studied.

Re:Surely it's a rising demand for brains (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404510)

You might not be right about your point; it's all a quantitative question. By your pattern of reasoning, technology could never put people out of work because people are necessary to create the technology. That's obviously absurd. How many workers are employed developing the cotton mill that so offended the Luddites? I think the answer today is somewhere close to zero. Yet their invention long ago means that the Luddites' positions are never coming back. Invention is a bit like that. You don't need to invest brain power to maintain the existence of something that had been created in the past, for example, software. If there are people currently maintaining it, this may be because they are trying to permanently kill yet more jobs with it.

Of course, lots of technology is there to do jobs that nobody ever did before. So for example, our government snoops (with software) on every single one of our phone calls and emails. I don't think that an army of human snoops lost their jobs, because before the age of smart software, our government never did this job. So yes, technology is constantly helping us discover new jobs that we now think are worth doing, that wouldn't have been worth doing without the technology that makes them easy. But this doesn't mean that technology creates only these kinds of jobs. Many human jobs, like "computer", are simply not coming back.

Re:Surely it's a rising demand for brains (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404530)

If one team of programmers and a single IT professional for each law firm replaces a team of layers and paralegals at every law firm in the county, the increase in IT professionals will be orders of magnitude smaller than the decrease in legal professionals.

Also there is no reason that programming, and infrastructure maintenance would be guaranteed to be safe in the future. Most software today is applications of long solved problems and is developed in high level development environments that do most of the work (especially compared with the old "enter your machine code line by line using theses 8 switches" days). The logical conclusion of that tend will be most companies replacing their software developers with a development environment that allows the marketing department to enter a specification document and outputs a compliant program. Infrastructural maintenance is basically waiting for robot butler technology to be good enough that it can unplug and replug in hardware, but that can't be more than a handful of decades off.

Re:Surely it's a rising demand for brains (2)

varcher (156670) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404634)

Writing lawyer software will not scale with the number of "lawyers" required. As demand for lawyers service increased (due to more people), new jobs were created. However, for software lawyers, it just means you run an additional copy of the software.

You still need to sell those services, though.

So, instead of lawyers, we need... salesmen? Did we gain that much? :P

Economics and the way it should be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404374)

See, those lawyers were replaced by technology. By being replaced with tech, those lawyers are free to move onto work that benefits society more: like porn.


Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404376)


computers are good at repetative work (1)

alen (225700) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404378)

most tasks that are perfect for computers are repetitive work of finding the right data in a warehouse. just program it to find the right data and it will work until done. people hate repetitive work, people want something interesting that always changes.

the lawyers will just get put to work doing something else that needs to be done but wasn't affordable because companies that needed the document searches done would pay more

Re:computers are good at repetative work (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404412)

I think a chunk of the problem is that a lot of that boring, repetative work was how people got into various industries. Seems like most industries, people have to slog it out doing some chore for a few years before they build enough experience to get into the cool stuff.

People are now seeing that work vanish. Hopefully employers will realize this and find ways to get new people into their respective industries without the use of "shit jobs". There is probably gonna be a huge period of suck before that happens though.

Re:computers are good at repetative work (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404592)

I don't think this kind of progress obviates that slog work. I mean, we have completely automated basic arithmetic and analytical functions, so no one needs to learn how to do them? Well, not quite. You still have to learn them so you can debug (in the broader sense) the system that's supposed to be automating your work so you know when it's errs and why it's erring. Initial "slog work" would still exist in such situations, it's just that it would be "verify this document search, see if there's anything it should have gotten but didn't" instead of "do this document search".

You can really crash when you don't have people are who *could*, if necessary, manually go through all the steps to make sure the computers are doing it right.

No different from when Scribes were laid off (2)

commodore6502 (1981532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404384)

The printing press put millions of scribes out of work, because machines could do the same job. Of course we still needed scribes (later renamed secretaries) --- just not as many.

Same with lawyers - we still need them; just not as many as currently exist. These persons will just have to learn new skills. Like maybe programming the computers which do document review.

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404482)

There... there weren't really millions of scribes at any given time. More like tens of thousands, tops. There simply wasn't much demand for books when they were so labour-intensive to make. One thing that's fantastic about truly "disruptive" technologies is that the world becomes vastly more accessible once they're commonplace, and the artisans have moved on or died off.

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404504)

Anyone know of anyone replacing front facing staff at fast food places with touch-screen terminals yet?

I'm thinking they could save a lot of money on staff, and improve customer satisfaction because any messed-up orders will actually be their own fault.

In fact, the kitchen could probably become more automated too, with just one or two guys to make sure everything's running smoothly, but that would be a lot more expensive in the short term than a few terminals.

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (1)

nameer (706715) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404616)

McDonald's tested this [] a while ago. It was not well received by the customers.

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404708)

Yet Wawa [] uses touch screens, and it is definitely well-received.

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404648)

Anyone know of anyone replacing front facing staff at fast food places with touch-screen terminals yet?

Once, when my company sent me to Tokyo, I ran across a curry restaurant where you ordered by purchasing a token from a vending machine and giving it to the cook at the bar. Fortunately the cook knew enough English to explain what the hell I was supposed to do, since the phrasebook didn't have "what the fuck am I supposed to do here to order?"

Re:No different from when Scribes were laid off (1)

AlienIntelligence (1184493) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404570)

The printing press put millions of scribes out of work, because machines could do the same job. Of course we still needed scribes (later renamed secretaries) --- just not as many.

You know, look at any old footage of a typing pool.

I mean ffs... a typing pool! []

My first word processor, I used when I was in the
7th grade. Made beautiful work with that DMP2100.
Never, ever went back to hand writing or paper typing
work again. A convert, 33 years ago.

I don't see the computers really eating up the "brains"
jobs... just middle workers.

Really, a lawyer that is hunting thru docs... is just
a middle worker [lovely pay, but still, doing pedantic


And who produced the software? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404388)

The point is, you need skilled people to produce the clever algorithms, the software, the database, even the increased demand in hardware. The employment market is just shifting its requirement to different types of qualified jobs.

Software no-brainer (1)

Wowsers (1151731) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404390)

I would tend to agree that software is driving down demands for brains.

I went for my very first job interview for coding, and the "human resources" interviewing me said that my knowledge of and ability to write code in a text editor was irrelevant, because "We have templates for that". Maybe they liked their bloat code?

Re:Software no-brainer (1)

PJ6 (1151747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404546)

I've watched that attitude devastate quality in the software industry over the last decade.

Re:Software no-brainer (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404556)

Those who can, do.
Those who can't, work in human resources.

Re:Software no-brainer (1)

aug24 (38229) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404624)

They might have a point: it's far more important to understand the problem than to be able to code the solution. You can train up coders, you can code review, you can regression test. What is much harder is the ability to analyse and document the problem.

Now if the falling demand... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404400)

...can just fall fast enough keep up with the falling supply perhaps there will be some hope of relieving the shortage.

Ultimately, not everyone can get a job (2)

billyswong (1858858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404406)

Ultimately, not everyone can get a job, and it may not be their personal faults.

When technology advances, old jobs are eliminated and new jobs are created. But one day, there won't be enough new jobs to fill the hole. Machines and now, computers, replaced manual labours one by one. Capitalism will fail. And a significant amount of people will be born to live by social welfare, not because they are lazy, but because they have no choices.

Re:Ultimately, not everyone can get a job (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404526)

Computer programming: futureproof.

Everything else, given the existence of enough computer programming: not futureproof.

Amusingly, this includes things very near computer programming, like robotics. You can, after all, and with enough expert interviews, design a program to design anything else. Veni.

Re:Ultimately, not everyone can get a job (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404536)

Capitalism will fail? Fail to be replaced by what exactly? I think it more likely that society will just have to adjust, perhaps doing as Japan did and cutting down on the number of allowed children, etc.

Fight it out, sissies! (1)

Musically_ut (1054312) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404420)

The article seems to be concentrating only on Law as a business which has been deeply affected by the revolution in searching documents.

Here one may take a leaf out of RIAA and the leading Music labels' book which has also seen the role of middle men being made largely obsolete by the advent of Internet.

The solution, hence, is simple: just sue the ... oh .. wait.

As a zombie employer... (1)

Stokey (751701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404426)

...I'm always on the lookout for brains! Joking aside, the requirement for people with brains lives on. Right now, I'd give my eye teeth for people with the 'brains' required to develop my business. And brains doesn't necessarily mean PhD level deep thinkers, it means agility and flexibility as well as a basis in the required skillsets. Experience can be gained, skills can be taught, but the raw material... Give me strong AI, then we can ditch the talk about the requirement for intelligent people. Stokey

At the end of the day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404428)

There will be one day when there will be no jobs left for anyone, because everything will be done by computers/robots. We are not going towards lower unemployment rates, ever... We'd better prepare ourselves for a jobless society.

Employee == Expense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404440)

Employee's are always going to be an expense for a company. We've been building machines and equipment to replace the jobs of skilled laborers since the industrial revolution, the advent of computers hasn't changed this. Now, when that computer can do some serious thinking for itself then we really will have to evaluate to what level of dependence are we comfortable with, but we aren't there by a long shot.

Progress (1)

Dersaidin (954402) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404450)

Yes, computers can replace people for some jobs, they may do the task better in addition to being cheaper.
This is a great thing, as it frees these people to take on more complex tasks and advance the development of humanity.
However, these more complex tasks do demand brains - likely even more so.

babys/LSI/world+dog, headquarters attacked damaged (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404452)

not unexpected, still disheartening. we're ok, unlike our contemporaries, who are being mowed down dead due to our need to arm our 'business' partners (murderers, psychos, whatever?) whilst we ponder ???? almost nothing? please do not underestimate the abilities of the most powerful source of life in the universe. be there or be scared/angry etc...

Progress (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404454)

So when technology replaces low-education workers, like robots replacing chain workers, it's fine. But when it replaces educated people, somehow it's not such a fine thing anymore ? I guess this article has been written by... well you can figure it out by yourself. </SARCASM>

The deep issue is the increase in productivity. Science fiction writers of the golden age did forecast a year 2000 where we'd all be working 2 hours a week and enjoying life the rest of the time. But what we got is a world where some people (CEOs, top-notch contractors...) work like crazy and get heaps of money while the rest get an unemployment check to keep them quiet. Can't we do better than that ?

Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (5, Insightful)

jockeys (753885) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404456)

Mr. Bucket had a job at the toothpaste factory screwing lids onto tubes of toothpaste. A shitty job. One day, they bought a robot that did the same thing, only betterfastercheaper and so Mr. Bucket got the sack. So what did he do? He learned how to fix the machine, and thus got a job fixing the machine that paid better.

What is the moral of the story? If your job is in danger of becoming redundant because a robot (or piece of software) can do your job, you'd better start educating yourself so that you can get a job fixing the machine (or piece of software) that does your old job. Humans need to focus on work that humans are good at, and not try to compete at tedious repetitive things (screwing lids onto toothpaste, parsing long contracts with fixed logical rules) which machines (and software) are inherently better at.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404520)

So how many robots does it take to provide enough work for one robot repairman? It certainly is not a 1:1 ratio.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404678)

The story was about the one smart guy who evolved not the 20 who griped that they were losing their shitty job to a robot.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (2)

boristdog (133725) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404698)

So how many robots does it take to provide enough work for one robot repairman? It certainly is not a 1:1 ratio.

YOU'VE never worked in a high-tech factory. It takes a LOT of people to monitor, care for and repair everything in a modern fab. Even a "lights out" fab has hundreds of people working to keep it running. Those chips don't get cheaper by themselves.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404658)

"parsing long contracts with fixed logical rules"

Sorry, legal law is random, arbitrary and full of amiguity. Why do you think there are lawyers - they get paid shed loads of money to argue points of law. Funnily enough, laws are written by lawyers.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404676)

This was solved later by making robots cheap enough you just buy a new one instead of fixing it.

Re:Roald Dahl called this 50 years ago... (2)

jeddak (12628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404718)

Easy for you to say. If you've been working an assembly line job for years, you're not going to suddenly find the time and money to learn mechanical engineering. Yes, individuals are to some degree responsible for their own marketability, but in the example (taken from a fictional story), it just isn't realistic to expect one type of worker to quickly transform themselves into another type of worker as soon as their type of work becomes obsolete.

Yes and no. (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404468)

Sure, Lexis-Nexus made document research much easier for the layman to do. However, they still need highly intelligent software engineers to design it and highly capable web designers/developers to keep the site going. Automation and workflow improvements have always been in-demand, even outside of IT (the industrial revolution being one prominent example); jobs being cut/simplified have always been a consequence. It's part of the workflow cycle.

what brains (1)

PJ6 (1151747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404474)

Strange, I was just thinking about how we're apparently experiencing a falling SUPPLY of brains. Won't the two kinda cancel out?

LawBot 2000 (1)

bokmann (323771) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404478)

Using computers to replace auditoriums full of lawyers? ... how can I help?

Damn Computers... (1)

drej (1663541) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404486)

They tuk or jooobs!

I feel so sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404494)

for all the unemployed lawyers.


Okay, no, actually I'm just scared that the unemployed lawyers will try to make their livings by engaging in even more ridiculous litigation.

Evolution (1)

symes (835608) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404496)

As a species we are always pushing boundaries and technology is a manifestation of that urge. Certainly it means humdrum occupations requiring some skill and education become less relevant. But to suggest tech replaces people is fallacious. It is merely a platform upon which we can develop further.

Highly educated, yes, but were they using it? (1)

Gribflex (177733) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404518)

Let's be open here -- these people were highly educated, yes, but where they using their education in this role?
I think not.

What they were doing was simply reading through mounds of material looking for something that could be interesting to the case. It requires some deduction, some common sense, a good grasp of the concepts of the problems they are trying to solve, etc. But, it does not require a law degree. This is grunt work. One could easily imagine a situation where several legal assistants do the same work, and report into a senior person who really does need that education.

From other job sectors, one could make this distinction between Nurses and Doctors. (Yes, i know Nurses are also skilled, but not as much so as a Doctor for most definitions of 'Nurse'). You don't need your MD to answer a slough of 'Does this rash look funny to you?' questions at a health clinic. Just a simple 'No, put this cream on it' or 'OMG, what did you do? You need to see a Doctor' will suffice. Four good nurses and one doctor is as effective as 5 doctors for most family style medicine, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Or, closer to home, you don't need someone with a degree and 6 certifications to work Tier 1 tech support. Tier 2 or 3, perhaps. But not Tier 1.

Falling demand for repetitive, tedious jobs (1)

mdragan (1166333) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404524)

We still need lawyers that will argue in court, and ones that give support in many other ways. We can't replace them with computers, yet. If anything it removes the tedious part of looking through volumes and volumes of past cases, and laws to find relevant information pertaining to the case. That is not the smartest part of a lawyers job. And we still need lawyers that know how to create the right "queries" on the machines. Falling Demand For Brains? No. Falling demand for repetitive, tedious jobs? Yes.

Really? From an economist? (1)

digsbo (1292334) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404528)

I thought anyone trained in economics would understand that technological innovation increases productivity and overall wealth through capital investment, whether that comes from machines which weave fabric, or engines that search for legal precedent, thus making the same goods available at lower cost.

There is an adjustment to the economy's structure as these are introduced, but without the benefits of specialization and diversification of the labor pool, married with capital equipment, we would never enjoy the lifestyle we do today in first (and second) world countries.

Perhaps Krugman would suggest we switch all gas engines back to coal-fired steam so we can re-employ the idle coal miners?

Paul Krugman Says (nothing important) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404534)

No serious thinking person listens to anything Paul Krugman says. He's an ideologue incapable of saying anything that isn't either America bashing or Keynesian.

Falling demand for Common Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404544)

Is it rally a falling demand for brains? Leaving aside the Lawyer Jokes surely all those lawyers in the auditorium can be put to more productive use. Or is it expected that all the expensive education gives them a right to do low end work for a high hourly rate. How come people were not complaining when blue collar workers were being laid off. That was OK because the companies had to increase 'productivity' and were answerable to Wall Street. Now that the white collar jobs are getting affected we bemoan the 'falling demand' for brains.

The Beginning of a Larger Future Change (1)

BlueMonk (101716) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404572)

I've often wondered what will happen to the economy and employment levels as technology approaches the sophistication and intelligence of human beings. The singularity [] is supposed to occur in my lifetime. Does it even make sense for me to save for retirement if that's true? What meaning will money have when no human can earn any? Will we finally be well cared for at no cost, or will we simply become obsolete?

Re:The Beginning of a Larger Future Change (4, Insightful)

johnbr (559529) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404674)

it is quite possible that the singularity will arrive in your lifetime, but it is also possible that it won't. You should save for retirement as the contingency case. Also, there's a strong argument that in a rapidly advancing future, people with any capital at all will be in a much better position than people with no capital.

Re:The Beginning of a Larger Future Change (1)

BlueMonk (101716) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404706)

Yes, I'm saving (quite well) for retirement, but I still find this an interesting, if somewhat rhetorical, question.

And less lawyers are a bad thing ? (1)

MrData (130916) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404574)

A reduction of lawyers in the workforce would probably be the best thing to happen in years! Now if only there was some software which could replace a hack NYT economist.

It's called productivity. (4, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404580)

This author has a completely backward way at looking at things. Income is only half of the equation. What you can buy with that income is the other half. What things can you get with the work you do. Productivity increase is good because you can create more with less work. This means things get cheaper and you can earn less and live better. This is called deflation. The problem is the financial industry and politicians refuse to let deflation happen. They see it as an enemy that must be conquered. So they inflate the money supply and give that money to politicians to spend. So what ends up happening is productivity increases are given away and the citizens are never able to gain their benefit even though their income is lower.

I like to use StarTrek as an example. They have a replicator. Once you have a replicator you never HAVE to work again. Anything you want including another replicator can be made. Are the people all of a sudden poor? Technically yes since they no work for money. In fact they are flat broke. But are they living better? Of course.

Ned Ludd, Esq. (1)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404582)

While it's true that a profession can be oversaturated due to swings in the market - Law and finance are suffering a glut right now, just as comp-sci grads started working at coffee shops to get by in 2001 - these ebbs and flows even out over the course of time.

Auditoriums full of attorneys are massively inefficient and error-prone. It's not a good use of a law degree - come to think of it, billable hours and the organization of the law firm are both obsolete. Prix-fixe legal billing is the new school, and lawyers using technology to make it possible are making a ton of money, and there's going to be more demand as the cost barrier is lowered: Lawyers get to make more money working less hours for more clients. I don't mean there will be more lawsuits, I mean there will be more wills, living trusts, estate planning, contracts entrepreneurs and investors, setting up LLCs and corporations, etc... stuff that increases wealth for the middle class, and was once reserved only for the wealthy. So it's a net positive.

Technology does close some doors and obsolete some careers. It creates far more than it destroys, tho... and there are still craftsmen who cobble shoes by hand, just like old Ned Ludd, and they make enough to support a middle class lifestyle.

The larger problem is that colleges funnel their best and brightest into law instead of other fields of study, and business looks at college as a 6-year trade school. An employee with an advanced history or english degree will be very damn valuable - they can organize research into any number of issues, think critically and analytically about what they've found and communicate what they've decided about it clearly. That's worth more than knowing how to get "hello world" to run in LISP. Yet it's a "useless degree" to many hiring managers...

Both business and higher education are not acting in their own long term best interests in search of short-term profit.

software is good! (1)

georgesdev (1987622) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404600)

Software makes some tasks easier, but that does not mean the workers can now be stupid.
If you make it simple for people to search through a document (hint: type Ctrl-F), it does not mean I can have a dumb employee, it means I can let that employee do higher level stuff.
Until the eighties, you could give a 500 pages document to someone, and ask him for a one page summary management would then analyze the summary and take some decision. Today, you give an employee a project, he researches on-line, creates a report, presents it, and more importantly does recommendations.
Remove today's powerful tools, and people go back to low-level tasks.
Give an engineer a lab machine powerful enough to host 10 virtual machines. Guess what, he'll model a network of servers and make progress. Give the same engineer a pile of a hundred books on computers, and a crappy 500MB desktop, come back a year later and see if he's achieved anything, and progressed in his knowledge ...

Zombies (3, Funny)

thisisauniqueid (825395) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404602)

"Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?" Yes, I have heard Zombies are starting to eat software instead.

Not really (3, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404614)

What is currently being eliminated are jobs that do not require imagination or deeper insights. On the high end, people of all qualifications are even more in demand than ever, because the computers cannot do their job without them. Working AI is not even remotely on the horizon, it is still completely unknown how it could be done. And this also means it is completely unknown whether a working AI would have issues like motivation, etc.. What is also completely unknown is whether an AI would actually be as smart as a human being and how much computing power it would need to even get to human average level. There is some indication that when you look at interconnect, the human brain is within one order or magnitude of what is possible in this universe. Get larger, and you get slower because of longer ways. Get smaller, and you cannot fit in as many interconnects.

Coming back to the job market, the problem is with a lot of jobs that can be learned and do not require very smart or flexible or imaginative people. As these are where the middle-class mostly takes its income from, these jobs vanishing is a huge problem. As it seems there is really no way to prevent that, I think the solution must either go into the direction people starting to share jobs, while retaining their before income (otherwise spending power of the population goes down the drain), or something radical, like a base-income provided from tax money (corporate taxes, really) that you can live off reasonably well. Obviously, the time for the latter has not quite come yet, but it is one of the very few options how the economy is not going to implode in the longer run. The high-skill jobs would still be filled. Talented people want to exercise their talents. The question is what the medium skill range will do. However, the absolute worst approach would of course be to let them all slide into poverty. That could only lead to massive destabilization, finally ending in disintegration of society. It is absolutely imperative that most people have a good chance at a reasonable life.

A Zombie Apocalypse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404618)

...would definitely drive the demand for brains.

Though I'm not sure there really is a problem as long as IT replaces mind numbing and repetitive work. It's a waste of time to have humans do jobs machines can do faster and cheaper.

Good thing (3, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404620)

What I do all day long is write/maintain/modify software that does exactly what this article is talking about. The problem is in what the article is defining as "brains." In my experience the type of worker that I'm able to replace with software is the type of person that probably shouldn't have their degree anyway. You've got the kind of person that gets their degree and does great... really knows their stuff, wins a lot of cases. Then you've got the people that barely graduated, maybe paid someone to write their term papers for them, have a degree but are actually very poorly skilled. Those people end up in what I've always called "Professional secretary" positions. They do all the menial work that the real highly skilled employees can't be bothered with. You'll find a plethora of people like this in the IT industry.

No, it's mainly the fault of the legal profession (4, Informative)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404622)

We live in a society that begrudges good pay to workers who actually make things. Many people regard the medical profession as damn near crooks for, *gasp*, actually wanting to be paid very well because of the risks that come with their work and the amount of real education they need to get in the door.

So what in the hell would make lawyers think they'd be immune? Most of the "complexity" of their education is self-created by their profession. It used to be that anyone could read the laws of their state and become a lawyer; today you need a juris doctorate to get in the door. A degree that is closer to a PhD than a high school degree.

Our legal system needs a reset on its entire code. There are over 4,000 federal crimes; to whit, there were only about 620 total laws (religious, civil and criminal) in the Old Testament. That means that there are likely more felonies in the federal criminal code than there were total regulations on every aspect of civilized life back then. Heck, the Roman law of the 12 tables, on which many of our ideas are based as well, is practically a foot note compared to just our personal income tax code.

This bs again? (0)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404628)

For the last 100+ years people have been bitching that "machines" are taking jobs and displacing workers. Now it is machines and efficiency taking jobs. Guess what? People still find jobs and do just fine. People were worried the cotton gin would destroy jobs, that the automobile would destroy jobs, that the robot would destroy jobs. Same old boring song and dance. Yawn.

A feature, not a bug (2)

johnbr (559529) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404650)

There are a lot of jobs (and I mean a _lot_) that do not require lots of brainpower, but, because of guilds/cartels/monopolies/licensing/etc, are priced as if they did. For example, researching a patent for novelty is a much more brain-intensive task than reading documents, looking for keywords. But lawyers gamed the system, and made it appear that both activities were equally time-consuming and difficult. (patent research must be difficult, because they get it so horribly wrong) Do not weep for the destruction of false barriers to entry.

Why do we need more make-work projects? (2)

jimbobmcbob (1510159) | more than 3 years ago | (#35404680)

The Earth is in the middle of an ecological meltdown, and on an unrelated note, apparently we're running out of jobs worth doing.

Why the concern? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35404692)

Could it be that, like all economists, Krugman could easily be replaced with a computer program?

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