Computers can aggregate information, sort it for people and direct them to
the most interesting things. Who needs reporters?
The profession might be feeling similarly cowed by the march of progress this
week, after Princeton professor Alan Blinder told us all that accountants and
many lawyers too would be ‘outsourced’ over the next generation.
‘Lawyers involved in family disputes, and criminal lawyers – they’ve got to
stay around. But lawyers that write contracts, and lots of accountants; maybe
that kind of education is not such a fabulous idea,’ he said.
Some say he’s being optimistic, and that the traditional professions will
disappear in the West faster than that.
I have to disagree. Blinder makes clear that he doesn’t think people who are
client-facing, or who deal in the personal touch, will ever disappear. For that,
you need to be on the ground. A call centre half way across the world can’t take
someone out for lunch.
What Blinder and others drastically underestimate is the degree of personal
contact required in jobs that, to outsiders, look mechanical, and accountancy,
like journalism, is one of them.
We can all sense when we are dealing with a human being, capable of more
sophisticated leaps of thinking than a computer. The best business advice will
be truly original and unexpected, and also exciting in opening up new avenues of
If there is any value in Blinder’s analysis, it is that it is people skills
that we need to train. That may be more challenging than just form filling. But
it also sounds like a more interesting world to live in.
Alex Hawkes is news editor of Accountancy Age
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