Source | FastCompany : By GEORGE LORENZO
The fear of job loss due to automation is no longer relegated to only physical-labor manufacturing jobs and relatively simple transaction-based, customer-service workers (i.e., bank tellers, grocery store clerks, and travel agents). Companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated “cognitive” technologies across a new swath of knowledge-worker jobs in fields such as finance, health care, and insurance.
However, figuring out what this increased adoption rate really means seems elusive. Special reports and articles from respected economists and IT professionals present divergent and ambiguous views concerning whether or not automation will displace millions of knowledge workers.
In a recent New York Times Magazine article, “The Robots Are Coming for Wall Street,” executives from Goldman Sachs and Barclays bemoaned and praised a growing trend of financial analysts becoming displaced by smarter, big data-oriented software. On the other hand, a recent Huffington Post piece, “We Might Be All Wrong About Robots Taking Our Jobs,”, highlighted the optimistic views of MIT Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-authors of The Second Machine Age, saying that the growth of smart machines and automation catalyzes the emergence of new and exciting knowledge worker jobs.
Another view put forth inside a March Pew Research Report, “Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation,” noted that “two-thirds of Americans expect that robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans in 50 years, but most workers expect that their own jobs will exist in their current forms in five decades.”
“Labor economists look at dislocation on a very large scale, and there are some economists who say that everything works out in the long run, so don’t worry. Then there are others who say that this time it is different, and we should be very worried,” says Julia Kirby, co-author with Thomas H. Davenport, of Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines, to be published in May by Harper Business.
“None of these people give the individual any kind of sense that they can be doing something to shape their own fate,” Kirby adds. “That is the kind of vacuum we saw in the whole discourse about this.”
If history is our guide, job displacement from smart machines jobs simply means that knowledge workers must learn how to adapt, similar to how civilization successfully transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial society. They must learn how to supplement and enhance their skills. In short, knowledge workers need to become augmenters, a scenario in which “humans and computers combine their strengths to achieve more outcomes than either could alone.” That is the key message that comes out of Davenport’s and Kirby’s upcoming book.
“We decided that the most responsible thing to do was to focus on what individuals can do to increase the likelihood that they will keep a job,” Davenport says, adding that “nobody really knows exactly how many jobs are going to be lost through automation. We think it is probably smaller than what many people are saying.”