Review Essay – Technology and the Professions: Utopian and Dystopian Futures

(2017) 40(1) UNSW Law Journal 302-321

UNSW Law Research Paper No. 17-29

21 Pages Posted: 26 May 2017 Last revised: 13 Jul 2018

See all articles by Graham Greenleaf

Graham Greenleaf

University of New South Wales, Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 24, 2017


This essay is inspired by and consists of a critique of ‘The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts’ (OUP, 2015) by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind. They start from the question ‘how do we share practical expertise in society?’ and argue that ‘in a post-professional society, we predict that practical expertise will be available online,’ leading to their key moral question ‘who should own and control [this] practical expertise’? Their conclusion is optimistic, at least for the sharing of expertise, if not for traditional professions. While I ought to be enthusiastic, and I agree with much of the analysis that leads to it, I reach more pessimistic conclusions, including much more dystopian options for the future for most professionals. This article explains why I have a more dystopian view.

In order to consider the Susskinds’ arguments, this review distinguishes the three different types of automation that are relevant to professionalism, and in each case the likelihood that it will be ‘liberated’ or made part of a commons: representing expert domain information; representing expertise; and applying expertise to individual situations. We also need to distinguish at least three types of the programmatic application of expertise: where ‘knowledge engineers’ embody expertise in programs; embedded knowledge; and machine-generated expertise; plus a related ‘communities of experience’. These distinctions allow somewhat different conclusions to be reached than those reached by the Susskinds on future modes of professionalism, and their relationships to expertise. My conclusions is that most of the encapsulated expertise is going to be locked up in (new) private hands unless there are enormous efforts by civil society, universities, and governments. On this semi-optimistic scenario, public bodies, members of the public, and parts of the professions might maintain sufficient commons to support the continuation of professional expertise. By making these issues central to their book, the Susskinds have taken a courageous step, for which future discussions of technology and professions will be indebted.

Keywords: Professions, Technology, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Engineer, Law

Suggested Citation

Greenleaf, Graham, Review Essay – Technology and the Professions: Utopian and Dystopian Futures (February 24, 2017). (2017) 40(1) UNSW Law Journal 302-321, UNSW Law Research Paper No. 17-29, Available at SSRN:

Graham Greenleaf (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales, Faculty of Law ( email )

Sydney, New South Wales 2052
+61 2 9385 2233 (Phone)
+61 2 9385 1175 (Fax)


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