There's a lot of excitement about artificial intelligence (AI) and the potential for robots to autonomously make decisions about what gets done, how it gets done, and who does it.
As the technology fast approaches the dreams of science fiction, many professionals, blue and white colour workers are beginning to fear a future where their own jobs are no more.
Will you be one who is replaced, or will you be one of those who thrives?
The new Luddism
In a fit of rage against the machines, Ned Ludd was an apprentice textile worker who allegedly smashed two stocking frames, a mechanical knitting machine, in 1779. The act spawned the Luddite movement whose members disliked the new technological devices and the changes being brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
In 1812, the Luddite movement was a small militant force, battling the British army in Middleton, Lancashire. They met at night on the moors surrounding industrial towns to practice drills and manoeuvres.
The Luddites employed tactics that today we would call terrorism and they were driven by a powerful cause: to save their jobs and improve their wretched standard of living. And they blamed the new machines in large part for their suffering.
Today, we face a new challenge: The rise of the robots.
Technological advances in the 19th and 20th centuries mainly displaced uneducated labourers. Today, we are seeing technology increasingly threaten skilled worker's jobs as well. Today, you may well have good reason to be concerned about the rise of the robots.
I realised recently, that I hadn't actually spoken to, or needed to speak to, anyone in my bank for more than two years. Financial services have been at the forefront of digital adoption and transformation and many lower-level (those less cognitvely demanding) positions have already simply disappeared.
In energy and mining, AI enables companies to tap new reserves and increase extraction and production efficiency. Predictive, manual work in both industries is no longer needed and the physical skills of old, is already or will soon be redundant.
In healthcare, automation and AI has already changed the interaction between patients and healthcare professionals. But the good news for carers is that demand for their services is likely to grow, but if you work the back office, it could be time to look elsewhere.
Manufacturing is seeing a new wave of AI and automation further disrupting production functions in factories. Two years ago, Foxconn replaced 60,000 workers with robots in one factory.
The retail sector is rapidly dying a death on the high street and jobs replaced by machines increase daily. Whether it be the self-checkout of today, or the automated RFID or similar tech of tomorrow. And who needs physical shops and humans in them anyway when Amazon can deliver later this afternoon?
Real Estate Agents are unlikely to be missed by those not in the profession, but what will they do once their job is done by a ‘bot?
Support services in organisations are threatened too. Do you really need accountants when the rules are established? Once you have the policies and procedures in place, how many people do you need in HR?
Supply chain professionals are replacing themselves rapidly**. Customer Service** has shifted to self-serve portals and voice prompts recorded once and played in evermore annoying menus of choices.
True, many other jobs open up, but with completely different skill requirements. Cybersecurity seems unlikely to stop growing – indeed, half of the battle is against malevolent AI bots.
The good news is that we'll still need humans to manage and lead and do the more complex cognitive thinking. For now, anyway.
Sure, one day AI could evolve to higher levels of quasi-cognitive functioning and make better decisions than human managers and leaders.
And there are things that you can do, right now, to significantly improve your value in the workplace.
Something that machines are not so adept at and that is: improve your communications skills.
Warren Buffet famously told a group of MBA students that they could:
immediately improve their value by 50% in the workforce if they could improve their speaking skills.
And that's improving your value against other humans, let alone the machines.
Gary Kasparov the World Chess Master and Champion, who in spite of famously losing to to IBM's Deep Blue super computer in 1997, is optimistic about humanity's superiority over machines:
- Machines have calculations we have understanding
- Machines have instructions we have purpose
- Machines have objectivity we have passion
And he cautions that
if we fail, it will not be because machines were too intelligent or not intelligent enough. It will be because we became complacent and didn't dream big enough.
Humans can dream. Robots cannot.
Your value in the workplace, whatever your role, is enhanced when you communicate well. When you can engage with clients, suppliers, peers, bosses, shareholders, community, and everyone else you impact.
The rise of the robots is real. It's already happening. It may not be quite as cool as human-like avatars or as frightening as the Terminator, but it is happening.
The people who will come out on top in this rise of the robots, those who enjoy meaningful work and greater success, will be those people who communicate exceptionally well.
They will show their passion and have a deep understanding of their world and be able to teach and lead others aligned to a purpose that is creative, personally fulfilling and making a real difference in the world.
The Luddites were eventually crushed by the Government after they took their cause to the level of destroying the machines. Refusing to embrace the new technology whilst the factory owners and the powers that be of the day, refused to share the wealth that automation created for them.
AI and the rise of robots is changing the way we work today and tomorrow
In short, the people who are going to thrive are the ones who are most human. And, the companies that are going to thrive are the ones that feel most human and share the wealth that the robot rise creates.
How is your job impacted by the rise of the robots, AI and automation? What are you doing to improve your communication skills so that you will thrive in the new future of work?