I had lunch with the futurologist Richard Watson
yesterday. He lectures at London Business School, has written a number of books and advises governments, large corporations etc. on what is likely to happen to the world over the coming years. He's a phenomenon, and very charming. And I bought lunch, so in return he told me what should be worrying young lawyers.
The answer is pretty much everything.
Absolutely everyone should be worried about the economy. The global systems are all too complicated and interlinked, if a couple of them fail there's a real possibility of the whole thing crashing. If Greece defaults there's a risk of a chain reaction across a number of countries that could plunge the world into chaos. Richard's advice was to get a New Zealand passport, buy agricultural land with a decent fresh water supply and stock up on expensive wine. Because if all else fails at least you can drink it.
We should all be very worried about Russia, more so than China. Nations tend to be identified by specific characteristics, Russia's is loss of empire. Putin's trying to get it back and the West isn't doing enough to stop him.
Assuming the global powers manage to keep a lid on the above and the world doesn't disappear up its fundament, then we need to be worried about the rise of artificial intelligence. A few centuries ago unskilled workers found themselves replaced by technology. Then semi-skilled workers started to be hit, from the spinning jenny through to voice recognition software. Human intelligence has probably reached its peak, and advances in technology will now impact on skilled workers. At the moment legions of young lawyers earn their corn by trawling through documents to identify potential issues. This will be done by a computer program. Lawyers will still be needed but far fewer of them.
The result of this will be widespread unemployment and an impossible burden on the state. We are already seeing it in some countries. Spain has around 25% unemployment, rising to 50% amongst young people. It copes with this without civil unrest because it is Catholic and Southern European - families are sufficiently close that if a young person is struggling there's generally a mother or grandmother in the mix who can provide a roof, food, help. That's not the same in the UK.
On the upside, a whole generation of younger people are not particularly interested in material wealth and are yearning for greater altruism, less of a disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and something that might fix this sorry mess. Hurrah! Although the things which make us happy tend not to be very good for GDP. Boo.
In short, volatility will pose the greatest problems in the future, and agility is the answer. I'm off down to the New Zealand High Commission.
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