When will a robot be your boss?
If your image of robots is that of C3PO and R2D2 bumbling around in Star Wars, think again.
An algorithm is now a director sitting on the board of Deep Knowledge Ventures in the Far East, with voting powers equal to the humans.
A robot prepared a meal for Michelin-starred restaurateur, Angela Hartnett, requiring it to judge flavours – she declared the meal ‘delicious’. A hotel run by robots opened in Japan this summer, the Henn-na Hotel, and driverless cars are being test-driven in Milton Keynes.
The future is now!
The question that every employee should be asking is – how long will my job be around, what jobs will always be needed and how do I position myself to stay working even when a robot is my boss?
The biggest problem we have is that bosses are automating all kinds of activities without really understanding the impact of what they are doing. I have been so worried about this, earlier this year I did my own research to see the scale of the issue. It is worse than I thought (you can download a free copy of the report March of the robots…into the boardroom).
Fifty eight per cent of UK bosses admit their boards are not good at understanding or managing technology; 47 per cent have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs and 81 per cent are sitting pretty, believing managerial jobs won’t be hit by automation. And only three per cent think leadership positions will be lost.
Bosses are living in cloud cuckoo land
I also interviewed bosses to get their take on what is happening, first hand. A classic was a partner of a major professional services firm. Yes, they were automating swathes of routine tasks – which would normally be done by junior employees. When I asked how this was affecting their graduate recruitment programme, which takes on a thousand or so employees every year, there was silence. They had not connected the automation in one part of the firm with the knock-on effect in another.
This is because most board members do not get involved in the nitty gritty of technology – they delegate to an IT or project team and do not apply normal leadership skills as they would with finance. So they don’t think about the business-wide impact.
Businesses are going to change radically in the next three to five years – bigger than we have seen with the internet. Whose jobs will still be needed?
Which jobs will robots steal?
Marketing analysis can be done better by machines looking at customer shopping trends and footfall trends, better than any human. But creative campaigns are still better done by real people – we are better at gauging the future and judging moods and capturing imaginations.
What about accountants? Number-crunching is better done by robots but talking to people at all levels in accountancy firms, they don’t see this as a major threat to their jobs. One manager told me they will upskill their junior employees to do more interesting work and everyone will do more skilful tasks through the firm.
This seems extraordinarily optimistic. Yes, clients will still want their audit partner to explain things in person. But robots can do a lot of senior level interpretation. Clients will also be doing far more of their own number-crunching in-house.
Much of a surgeon’s work can be done better by machines, providing the patient has a ‘routine’ body. Uncomfortable though it may feel, a robotic surgeon could probably do IVF procedures, cataract surgery and knee replacements quicker and with better results than a human surgeon – they can keep going for longer and don’t get tired or irritable.
A robot won’t be so good at operating on people with a number of serious illnesses rarely seen together; the unpredictable or one-offs. The robot won’t have enough past experience stored in its ‘brain’ to create a new path while operating.
90% of what an architect does is done through CAD software – checking the stresses, materials to use and how designs meet planning and environmental laws can all be automated.
What a robot can’t do – yet – is knowing how to create an amazing impact or understand how other people will view and love a building. That requires human judgement and creativity.
The jobs that will still be needed are those that require human empathy. Robots could just be the answer to our NHS nursing crises – allowing nurses to care for patients, not fill in forms.
Leaders will still be needed to inspire and motivate their colleagues – what few are left. And humans will still do jobs where you need gut instinct, creativity and inspiration. But we should not kid ourselves about many jobs.
So what can you do about all this, as an employee?
How do you survive this robot revolution?
First of all, become interested in what your company or organisation is automating or planning. Ask questions and help your bosses to think through implications.
I blog about what bosses need to do and regularly say boards need to bring in more technology expertise and get young people working with them – could you be one of these?
And the jobs that we will still need? These are creatives, jobs looking at the future, client-facing and the very rare – I mentioned the surgeon dealing with an unusual mix of illnesses together.
The challenge for us all is how we will gain the knowledge and experience for the senior roles that we still need – if there are only a few jobs around to get to the top.
It will not be long before a robot saying ‘Luke, I am your father’ is replaced with ‘Luke, I am your boss’.