“Computer says no.” Can computers replace Will Writers?

OK. Full disclosure time. I am a Will writer, but I am also unashamedly a nerd.

Ever since my dad bought me my first Sinclair Spectrum, I have been fascinated by computers. I even left the business for a few years and studied computer science, although I knew I was going to come back eventually.

I bought a new phone recently, to replace my last hand-me-down device which after five or so years had started to become unreliable. It was not expensive – less than ¬£80 – and has already proved incredibly useful. It is more powerful than the computer I’m using to type this blog post.

One of its new (and truth be told, slightly creepy) features is the voice recognition. I can tell it to put an event into my diary at a given date and time, and I get a reply from a female-sounding voice. The event then magically appears in my diary, synchronised across all the computers I use. Or instead of a specific date, it can even remind you to do things based on your location – tell it to remind you to pick up milk next time you’re at the supermarket, for example. You can also ask a question, which is answered by Google.

Google keeps records of all of this, of course. They are silently searching through and collecting the trail of information that flows out of you as you live your daily life. They are starting to use all of this information in ways that have never previously been possible, and developing computers that can work with this data and come up with solutions people would never have been able to think of.

Google’s new technical director Ray Kurzweil is considered to be one of the best futurologists in the world. He designed the first flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech engine, and a host of other things that you probably use every day. And he works for Google now. His job specification, according to an interview with the Observer, is to bring natural language understanding to the search giant. And they’re spending serious money on it; Google is known to employ more than 5% of the world’s experts on machine learning to achieving this one goal.

He believes that they could reach a point within the next 10-15 years where our computers could be cleverer than us. In the future, they might even go so far as precognition – coming up with the questions you were going to ask before you even thought of them. A computer that knows you better than you know yourself.

This worries a lot of people, perhaps most notably Bill Gates. In an interview on Reddit, he expresses surprise at why people don’t seem to be concerned by the ramifications of super-intelligent devices. Stephen Hawking – not a man who is famed for his emotional responses to problems – comes up with a much more dramatic warning in an interview with the BBC.

So why am I telling you this? One of the predictions is no-one will have any work to do. If you go to your local supermarket, 30 cashiers have now been replaced with one cashier overseeing 30 automatic checkout machines. The stock exchange is largely automated, with computers buying and selling commodities to each other without any human involvement. Online sales of Non-Food shopping grew 19.8% from August 2013 to August 2014, according to KPMG. This reduces employment.

According to some, the next people who will be replaced will be the professionals. There’s no need for an accountant if your tax return can be completed automatically without any errors at all. Legal services will be unnecessary too. Much of our job is paperwork, and computers excel at that.

Still, computers definitely aren’t there yet, as anyone who has heard the automatic checkout machine say “Unexpected item in bagging area” for the 478th time can attest. Driverless cars are now pretty good, but the people who are in them are still responsible if the car is involved in an accident.

It’s the same with online Will services. You can get your Will written online, but you can’t match the experience of a face-to-face interview with an expert. We know how to ask just the right questions to make sure your Will works as intended, and that it is right for you. John and I have done thousands of wills for people in Newbury, Reading and Basingstoke, but we would never offer an online will service, as we don’t feel our job could be completed properly without talking to our customers. Our two-visit system – coming to see you to take the instruction, then going away to draft your will and returning to help you sign it when it’s ready – is still the best way of making sure your will does what you intended it to.

Perhaps Office 2021 will be able to write your will for you, leaving people like me trying to find something else to do with our lives. Until then, give us a call.