What the horse-and-mule business shows to lawyers, robots and others preparing for an uncertain future

ECWinslow

Last week, John Markoff at the New York Times published a note calling attention to recent studies which conclude that technology will not replace lawyers so much as create new kinds of the work for them to do. “The End of Lawyers? Not So Fast” He points to a paper written by UNC Law professor Dana Remus and Frank Levy at MIT, “Can Robots Be Lawyers?“.

Well, let me tell you: my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father were in the horse-and-mule business from the 19th Century forward. It was a good business and they did well. Then tractors came.

By the Mid-Twentieth Century, the horse-and-mule business was done. My family has been on the run from technology ever since. So my crowd knows a thing or two about competing with machines.

Now, here I am in the 21st Century weighing the possibility that robots may take most of the jobs that were left after the tractors came. I am being told not to worry. And, I have an attitude about that.

A rush of recent books and article has proclaimed a coming era of technology-provided abundance. Maybe, nobody will need to work. But that initial rush quickly subsided into a flow of worry — about whether there will be jobs for people to do. This will be with us, we are told – in twenty years’ time or less, they say.

Things are in flux. In the future, either the work we do will be gone, or it will will be changed. Either way, it will be different. How do we prepare for that?

Here is what the horse-and-mule bid’ness showed me.

First, the less work there is for people to do in an abundant future, the more need there will be for real educations. It will take a real education to know how to thrive in a time when jobs are not needed any more. That will require: “men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

And, second, the same also looks true if jobs are still around, but the work is different from what it is now. We must be able to cope with that change. And the best way (maybe the only way) to prepare for change , is to have a real education.

A “real education” is what Jane Fernandes at Guilford College calls a “practical liberal arts” education.

 

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