Could a robot do your job?

The endless rise of tech is one of what I call the “six pillars of job destruction”. The others are globalization, demographics, monetary and fiscal policy, educational lag and digital communications.

These subjects have been central to this blog for the last three years. And at times, it felt like I was a voice in the wilderness.

So imagine my delight last night when none other than the BBC’s prestigious programme Panorama, broadcast a 30 minute prime time documentary titled “Could a Robot Do My Job?”

Better still, a couple of my primary research sources, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT and the authors of “The Second Machine Age” were the star guests.

The programme set out exactly how and why technology is killing jobs. It also illustrated how technology creates new jobs.

But here’s the rub. The jobs created by tech are totally different to the ones destroyed by it. Which means those who lose their jobs as a result of technology are largely unable to switch.

That’s not the most critical point though. That’s the fact that the pace of technological advance is endlessly accelerating. The programme explained quite clearly how the pace of technological advances in the last five years has astonished even those who work in technology. In case you want to know why, it’s because human learning is linear (1,2,3,4,5 etc), whereas computer tech advances exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc.)

If as individuals we are struggling to keep up, then pause for a moment to consider the pace at which our educational systems change. I know from my time in the academic world that our educational institutions evolve very slowly. The smallest time unit of educational schedule planning is a year. Courses are designed and implemented over 2-3 year time frames. Core texts are often over 5 years old.

Critically, this is why humans will lose the race. Worse, there are few feasible solutions available. There is a new breed of young tech entrepreneurs and specialists (mostly in their late teens and twenties) and these young people will likely ride these waves of disruption with ease. But for just about everyone else, the worst is yet to come…

For what it is worth, my take on this is that the critical career assets we can acquire are:

  • Clear understanding of how technology is impacting our career field
  • The rapid acquisition of skills which are in keeping with these developments
  • The building of global personal professional networks
  • Positioning ourselves ahead of the change
  • And last but not least, career choices which are most likely to be most resilient to the threat of tech - these are jobs which involve large amounts of non-repetitive tasks, human interaction, creativity and manual dexterity.
None of these will provide complete protection, but they will give your career the best possible change of surviving the tech tsunami.

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