Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Who's Left? Right! (part two)

Automation

Last century, machines proved they could replace human muscle. This century, technologies are proving they can outperform human left brains - they can execute sequential, reductive, computational work better, faster, and more accurately than even those with the highest IQs. (Just ask chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.)

Transfer of power, right?

Consider the financial services industry - one of the first to be overhauled by the effects of the internet. Stockbrokers who merely execute transactions are history. Online trading services and market makers do such work far more efficiently. The brokers who survived have morphed from routine order-takers to less easily replicated advisers, who can understand a client's broader financial objectives and even the client's emotions and dreams.

Or take lawyers. Dozens of inexpensive information and advice services are reshaping law practice. With an uncontested legal divorce online for $249, who needs to pay the cost of a divorce lawyer. The Web is cracking the information monopoly that has long been the source of many lawyers' high incomes and professional mystique. Consequently, legal abilities that can't be digitized - convincing a jury or understanding the subtleties of a negotiation - become more valuable.

In the old days, anybody with even routine skills could get a job as a programmer. That isn't true anymore. The routine functions are increasingly being turned over to machines. The result: As the scut work gets offloaded, engineers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence.

Any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is at risk. If a $500-a-month accountant in India doesn't swipe your accounting job, TurboTax will. Now that computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills, we'll have to rely ever more on our right hemispheres.

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