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‘Some of the life changing technologies of the next two decades, we predict with confidence,pexels-photo-176842 have not yet been invented. Into the 2020s and beyond, we predict the emergence of a second wave of intelligent systems in the professions and work. The number of tasks they can take on will grow, and their execution will be better and quicker.’ (Richard and Daniel Susskind; ‘The Future of the Professions.)

Is technology about to take over human jobs?

EGM Partners, an Australian company, recently released a White Paper, ‘Five Predictions About the Future of Work’ and concluded:

‘Let’s be clear; this isn’t completely about technology taking over jobs. Experience in the 80s and 90s suggests that jobs aren’t lost by the introduction of technology. People’s work changes and they need to learn new skills.’

We agree as advances in technology generally mean that humans end up working differently, but don’t lose out.

But what if this time is different? We ask because there’s a lot of recent material saying that new technologies are at a ‘tipping point’ and they’re about to make an impact.

Let’s consider an alternative scenario.

In ‘The Future of the Professions’ the authors argue that each profession is at a different stage of a 4-phase process. Here are the 4-phases of the process (with a banking example added):

  1. Craft – this is where all professional work is done by an expert in person (the bank manager meets the customer to discuss a loan and takes the decision)
  2. Standardisation – the work is divided into tasks that are repeatable. Methodologies and checklists are developed which are duplicated so others can use them (the bank issues a form to staff listing questions to be asked about the loan and includes scores to be used to assess the answers)
  3. Systemisation – routine work and checklists are then loaded onto systems and processed by computers (the customer completes the form which is input into the system by a clerk and a score is automatically generated)
  4. Externalisation – the methodologies and checklists are made available online directly to the customer, made possible as machines and computers become more capable (the customer completes the questions online and is automatically advised of the decision – bank staff are not involved).

So, where is your profession in this process?

It’s when you start reaching number 4. that the trouble starts. More and more tasks are then completed by machines (or by less experienced humans working alongside machines). Most professions will reach this stage; albeit at different rates.

Daniel Susskind says the following:

‘The picture we get is of radical change. It involves a transformation of the way expertise is made available. What we call increasingly capable systems and machines will not only streamline and optimise the traditional ways professionals work but it will actively displace the work of professionals. In the long run, we anticipate that this will dominate as we find new and better ways of sharing expertise in society.’ (See ‘The Future of the Professions: Talks at Google’ – You Tube).

Professionals have taken comfort.

While routine or administrative work will be automated, they argue, it will have less impact on complex work or work where human judgment or empathy are needed.

However, the latest thinking points to the view that machines will be able to do complex work (by analysing more data and spotting patterns and correlations). Even complex work can be broken down into component tasks, which machines can handle.

In their new book, ‘Machine, Platform, Crowd,’ authors Mcafee and Jolson also argue that machines are better at work requiring human judgment:

The evidence is overwhelming that, whenever the option is available, relying on data and algorithms alone usually leads to better decisions and forecasts than relying on the judgement of even experienced and expert humans.’

As for work that requires empathy – it might not be too long before computers can do this as well. There are a lot of advances being made in ‘affective computing;’ machines that can detect and express human emotions.

So, you may think some of this is far-fetched, but there’s a lot of smoke on the horizon. Things are about to happen and we need to be prepared.

Here are 5 questions to think about:

  • If in 5-years’ time your role (or part of your role) is done by robots, what would you be able to offer your company? For example, what skills will you have that will be marketable? What niche areas will you be an expert in?
  • Have you taken control of your own self-development? Are you engaged in the two-speed career: doing the day-to-day (‘as is’ job) but also doing activities to get the skills and experience needed for the future?
  • Are you using the tools and systems out there to maximise your personal development? For example, are you curating your own content from You Tube and other learning platforms (Coursera, Udemy, Udacity or Degreed)?
  • Are you keeping your CV moving? New projects, developing skills, new experiences, collaborations?
  • Are you developing your personal brand? Social media, LinkedIn, being an influencer in your field?
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