The rise of the robots and the future of work.

Last year, I delivered a talk to a group of 16-year olds beginning their sixth form education. While working with young adults is not a speciality (it was a favour to my partner, a teacher), I have delivered talks to this generation before, with little success. The talk aims to raise aspirations and have taken the approach of ‘selling’ these young adults a better future and what they can achieve if they apply themselves, I discovered that rarely works. Therefore, at the most recent talk, I decided to take a different approach, scare them! OK, not scare them and therefore impact their mental wellbeing, that goes against everything I do as a Life Coach who specialises in mental health. What I wanted to do was raise their awareness of the ever-changing world in which they live and what this will mean for them and their careers in the future. The world in which we live has changed and beyond that which I experienced in my younger years.

As an introduction to the talk, I explored the difference between the world of work I lived in at 16 which was exactly 20-years ago, and the one they find themselves in today.

  • We could not order anything online although our Mum may have fun Avon or Freeman’s catalogue. In my case, my Dad used to take orders for and deliver from the Betterware catalogue, and a Tupperware party was the highlight of my Mum’s week.
  • All banking was done in a branch by a cashier.
  • All shopping had to be scanned and registered by a shop assistant or check out person.
  • Your McDonalds order was taken at the counter by a person.
  • If you weren’t completing actions face to face, you were doing them over the phone, and there was no voice recognition or pressing ‘1’ to speak to the complaints team.
  • You had to call an office if you needed a taxi.
  • If you needed the answer to something, you phoned a friend or went to the library and looked it up.

The Technological Revolution is open us and is moving at an alarming rate, the official term for which is exponential growth. We almost double the technological advances day on day. Heading towards what is known as the technological singularity, suggested being the point at which Artificial Intelligence outstrips human intelligence. An example of the progress we have made,

We sent a man to the moon and back with 4KB of memory, and your phone is 250,000 times more powerful at 1GB.

The future of work is going to be completely different even to that we experience today, and for many, beyond that which we are expecting or prepared. The emergence of automation will see any job which can be carried out by a machine being carried out by a machine. McDonald’s is a great example of machine replacing human, most of their updated restaurants now allow for you to place and pay for your order at a kiosk, and then collect it from the counter. We also have mobile phone apps which now allow you to place your order before you even arrive at the counter, such as Starbucks; I order my Venti Skinny Latte while I’m on the bus, and it’s on the end of the counter ready for me to collect as I pass through the station. We are nearing the emergence of a machine being able to create fast food to as high a standard as a human and at a much quicker rate, with one company has created a machine which can make 400 gourmet burgers in 1-hour.

Beyond automation, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) sees further developments made for the future of work. A piece of software affectionately referred to as Amelia is already so sophisticated it can answer customer service enquires. Further to this, not only can it recognise a personas emotional state based on their tone of voice, it can adapt its response to accommodate this. So, what happens when it makes a mistake? I hear you ask. Amelia learns from her mistakes and re-programmes her software accordingly. We will see AI introduced into all software, and the software and accompanying technology learning and adapting, future proofing itself in a way which cannot be replicated by humans. Driverless cars are no longer the stuff of science fiction; Tesla has already created one. The advanced safety inbuilt in driverless cars and sharing technology which allows them to be aware second by second of the actions and locations of all surrounding vehicles leads to significantly fewer errors in judgement than humans. One futurist suggests in just 15-years driverless cars will be the norm, and people will only drive for pleasure, with some governments questioning whether it is even safe to allow humans to drive anymore.

A quick way to identify which jobs will first be replaced is those which are deemed to be either dull, dirty, or dangerous.

These three criteria will see jobs being replaced by machine across the globe. Economist and economic historian Carl Frey compiled a list of 700+ jobs and placed them in order of the most likely to still exist in 20-years to the least likely. In summary, those jobs that remain safe are the ones that most required us to be human, and particularly interacting with one another. Speaking, caring, creating, educating are all roles which have some security. Any role which can be replicated by automation, robotics, or Ai will fall away including all driving roles, delivery, cashier and even cooking.

We could see a third of jobs being replaced by robots or systems as soon as 2025. The result? The potential for mass unemployment and humans left, for the first time since the industrial revolution, asking themselves where do we fit in the future of work. Finally, as each human aims to find their pace in the future of work, we face a final challenge (or opportunity) or working in a global market. Technology means many roles are outsourced for completion across the World, no longer is your competition in your City or on the High Street, but now it is across the globe. With some companies being able to compete on price, quality, and efficiency.

How do we survive? We need to return to those attributes and skills that make us human. I think there is something beautiful in the concept of the rise of the robots making us more human than I would argue we are currently. Emma-Sue Prince, the author of 7 Skills for the Future, suggests to navigate the future of work, and life, we will need to skills of adaptability, critical thinking, empathy, integrity, optimism, being proactive, and resilience.

Humans have survived thousands of years and will continue to do so, but those who stand the most chance of thriving are those who consider the future of work, today. As Malcolm X said,

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

 

Carl Frey’s The Future of Employment report: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/…/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

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