Lee Davies (IAM Chair)
Lee Davies, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys ruminates on the future of professional identity and associations.
At the 2015 Annual Congress of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA), I challenged my members to think long and hard about the way disruptive technologies, in particular AI, would alter the landscape for intellectual property (IP) professionals. We followed this, in November 2015, with a public debate on the influence AI would have on the IP system. An audience of IP professionals, IP rights holders and others interested in the topic heard four speakers argue for and against the motion: ‘this House believes it is inevitable that, within 25 years, a patent will be filed and granted without human intervention’. The audience concluded that this was likely to be the case, with many ramifications for the way IP professionals work.
In May 2017, I spoke about the future of professional identity at the annual MemCom conference. I argued that the world of work was changing at an unprecedented rate and that membership associations, in particular professional bodies, were sleepwalking into a far from certain future. All too often the debate about the impact of technology on membership associations is channelled through the lens of social media. That is to say that people will continue to seek out groups of common interest, but that social media will allow individuals to do so without the need for associations. For me, this is a gross simplification of the challenge associations face and one which entirely disregards the impact of more disruptive influences.
I believe that human kind is entering, what I would classify as, the third and final evolutionary shift in the world of work. The first great evolutionary shift saw the development of agriculture and allowed human kind to procreate at an extraordinary rate and sustain its growth. Crops and animals fuelled the revolution. The second great evolutionary shift saw the development of machines and industry, transforming human endeavour and further accelerating the expansion of humankind. Iron and carbon fuels fuelled the revolution. The third great evolutionary shift has started. The development of technology has hurtled humankind forward at an unprecedented rate. Data and digital processing are fuelling this revolution.
I read a lot around the subject of the future of the world of work and was particularly taken by this quote from the futurist Stowe Boyd.
“The central question of 2025 will be: what are people for in a world that does not need their labour and where only a minority are needed to guide the bot-based economy?”
Concepts of professionalism and professional identity are changing forever and I do not think that membership associations are even close to being ready for what lies ahead. Here, however, we can use what has happened in the world of chess, since Deep Blue conquered Kasparov, to gain some insight into what the future might hold. Rather than retreat into a state of despair, Kasparov became the champion of a new form of chess – freestyle chess – where the players can be human, machine or a combination of the two: a centaur.
I think that we can draw from this the inevitable conclusion that future professionals, particularly in fields which are highly technical, will be centaurs.
I believe, however, that this is a transient threat and that the real challenge is radically different. The capability of disruptive technologies WILL continue to increase exponentially. The dependence on human expertise WILL decrease rapidly. All professions WILL be mechanised, digitised, commoditised and deconstructed but, if we recognise the challenge now and accept that the future will look very different, professional identity WILL be in our hands – it will be what we choose it to be.