Unless you’ve been actively ignoring it, or live in Pyongyang, I suspect you’ll have either read, heard about or seen the naysaying predictions about how AI is going to replace humans, and do us all out of a job. The truth is that none of us really know. The future is literally imaginary.
What I can talk about with some insight and informedness however, is the future of work in the medium term. Not because I have a crystal ball, but due to a unique blend of knowledge of the employment landscape from founding 2 successful Human Capital firms, and now an Artificial Intelligence business.
So what's going to happen to my job?
In Klaus Schwab’s book The 4th Industrial Revolution, Schwab talks about the first 3 being the industrial revolution powered by steam; the power revolution powered by, well power; and the computing revolution, powered by Moore’s law. I’ve paraphrased. All of these events created raving fans and detractors. Famously, The Luddites smashed up the weaving machines in early 1800s Britain as they believed their livelihoods and jobs were at risk, while the mill owners revelled in the increased productivity they saw in deploying the new technology. These fears were eventually unfounded as The Luddites were never able to see the new jobs that would be created as a result of this productivity. Or they were dead – the reprimand was fierce.
Today, we are in a similar situation with many modern-day “AI Luddites” wanting to slow the progress of this technology in order to preserve their jobs. The likely reality is that the 4 areas to be most impacted by AI and Robotics are those roles that are encompassed by the 4 D’s:
Dull, Dirty, Dangerous and Dear.
Dull: Repetitive, process-oriented and mundane roles exist in any organisation of scale. Whether it’s a contact centre that answers the same 20 questions day in and out, or a warehouse picking goods for distribution, these tasks are ripe for replacement by AI.
Dirty: whether working with effluent or driving trucks in Australia, there’s an ever-expanding list of grubby tasks that humans are being liberated from.
Dangerous: whilst in New Zealand, we tend to be very compliance focused to reduce worksite injuries, the other opportunity is to remove humans from certain tasks to eliminate the possibility of harm altogether.
Dear (expensive): business costs can escalate either through high volumes of handling by humans, or simply a lot of resources to enable project success – robotics do not need sleep, breaks or food.
How will my job change?
There is a myriad of popular roles that exist now that came into our employment lexicon in the last 20 years. So I’d propose that the workforce, trends and responsibilities are an incredibly dynamic area. Just consider the rise of social media in business or the mighty (smart) Data Scientist. Neither were a thing just 10 years ago. Plus we’re a pretty flexible and remarkably dextrous lot. Humankind will persevere and thrive. The uptake of technology will be a moving target so knowing how much, or when things will be markedly different, is hard to know. But the work some of us do will absolutely change.
How do I prepare for this uncertainty?
I love lists, so let’s start with one. Capture the key tasks and responsibilities in your current vocation. Now, objectively, consider which slot into one of the 4 x D’s? If more than 30% of your job is covered by one of the D’s, then maybe it’s time to re-train (more on this next week, but focus on relationships, communication and creativity). If you’re looking at this list and thinking: “this list looks very blue-collar’ey Josh, I should be fine, I’m a knowledge worker!” then please focus on the Dull aspects. If you personally find it monotonous or boring, I’d suggest a machine could do that cheaper, and potentially better.
So, instead of the doomsday scenarios that the media likes to portray, you’re looking at a future of being liberated from these necessarily awful responsibilities. Your opportunity is to do more of the meaningful stuff that delivers value to the organisation and hopefully makes you feel like you make a real difference. I am yet to meet the person that LOVES the 15 password reset calls they receive on a Monday morning.