Research suggests that nearly half of today’s American jobs could be automated in the next two decades.
As a child in the 70s, I watched my father – then an IBM engineer – feed punch cards into supercomputers and fill notebooks full of ones and zeros as he programmed home built processors. He would say, “a computer will do this in the future” referring to almost everything. He was right.
Today, labor-replacing technologies are just slightly ahead in the queue to knowledge-replacing ones. Computers can now easily mimic human actions, detect health issues via phone apps, and even learn from other machines.
Have humans lost a battle with technology or do we simply need to work smarter to regain our advantage?
Back To The Future
In 1955, Philip K. Dick wrote a fictional short story called Autofac. It detailed an apocalyptic post-world war civilization controlled by machines that supply goods to human survivors. The story focuses on the human struggle to reclaim power to ensure the survival of humanity.
Fast-forward to 2001, Fanuc, a Japanese robotics company, started operating a “lights out” factory producing robots. Unsupervised robots are building other robots 24-hours a day for as long as 30 days at a time.
If you enjoy Corona beer, you can thank an army of robots that brew, bottle and pack your beverage. Just a handful of supporting workers are needed per shift. The company even employs a fleet of laser-guided forklifts to move the product between locations, eliminating the need for human drivers.
As futurist Thomas Frey points out in his article, Introducing the Fully-Automated 24-Hour City, workerless businesses are not reserved solely for manufacturing. “As we continue down the path of automation, virtually every city will have 24-hour convenience stores, 24-hour libraries, 24-hour banks, 24-hour churches, 24-hour schools, 24-hour movie theaters, 24-hour bars and restaurants, and even 24-hour shopping centers,” Frey explains.
Anyone that has bought gasoline at the pump, banked at an ATM, used self-checkout at a supermarket, made keys at a vending machine or checked into a corporate lobby using a computer has experienced where the world is going.
Running a business or portion of it with few to no employees is not science fiction, but yesterday’s reality and a future requirement for some organizations to stay competitive.
Computers and robots receive no pay or benefits and are more than happy to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without a complaint or even a coffee break.
Fierce competition and economic shortfalls continue to force cost cutting in every industry, from medical care to consumer goods. Advanced technology is the knight in shinning armor when it comes to cost savings for many businesses. Employee headcount remains the highest operating expense for most organizations.
While the initial start-up costs of establishing automated operations may seem cost-prohibitive, the auto industry has enjoyed substantial growth as a result of such investment. As advanced technology becomes more cost-effective it will be an option for most businesses and industries.
From Brawn To Brain
Jobs lost to technology will force many humans to transition to work which relies on more grey matter versus muscle. The ability to think clearly, quickly and creatively will determine your level of value to future organizations and communities.
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and a noted futurist, claims that by the 2030s we will be linking our brains to cloud computers, greatly expanding our own computing ability. Plus, be able to upload our brains to the cloud.
This will create an economy driven almost exclusively by Intellectual Property. Ideas will be put into action by technology creating consumer and business-to-business goods and services. The best ideas and most productive contributors will be rewarded based on the value of their contributions.
Value to an organization can be calculated by using hard ROI metrics. For example, compensation can be based on a percentage of sales or cost savings, key performance indicators or clearly defined objectives.
It is not uncommon for organizations to pay sales people on a commission only basis. Last year San Diego, CA Mayor Kevin Faulconer offered 10,000 city workers incentives to “come forward with innovative ideas that boost productivity and save money.” These same compensation incentives could be easily extended to any able contributor anywhere through crowd sourcing platforms like crowdicity.
Such a value-based system fosters a higher level of innovation and competition – raising the performance bar and further stimulating economic growth.
Shift To Remote Working
As ideas are not bound by location or time, it will be commonplace for employees or freelancers to remotely add value to multiple organizations during a typical day.
With the aid of current technology, organizational contributors can upload new products and services, improvements to old ones, fix things or compete for project work from virtually anywhere on the planet – including their favorite beach or a friendly neighborhood Starbucks.
A new technology platform by the company Koding allows remote employees or freelancers to begin making valuable contributions to a business within five minutes versus a typical 30 day on-boarding and training process. CEO and Co-Founder Devrim Yasar said, “The traditional software developer environment is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. Cloud-based developer platforms like Koding allow new team members to instantaneously add value to an organization from anywhere in the world. This brings substantial cost savings and significantly improves efficiency and productivity.”
Ken Hess’ article for Virtually Speaking states, “The mobility of laptop computers, tablet computers, and other mobile devices, including phones, have produced a highly mobile, location independent, extremely agile workforce. And workspaces have to keep up with users’ need to work from anywhere and on any device.”
This freedom could offer a new and heightened sense of human purpose, more time to enjoy life, family and friends, help those in need, and sustain our planet and civilization in new and innovative ways.
Competing In A World Of Ideas
Your personal brand is your avatar in today’s cyber reality – your electronic footprint – to keep you alive and relevant for career opportunities. This will become even more important as traditional jobs continue to disappear.
A strong LinkedIn or social media business profile or personal website serve as billboards to advertise what you have accomplished and the value you can bring to an organization. Done effectively, they will allow you to standout in a sea of competition and opportunities. Creating and sharing valuable web-based content in your area of expertise will be helpful, too.
A wise professor of mine once said, “Don’t look at the ants when there are elephants walking by.” Jobs are being automated at a rapid pace. Those that can adapt and demonstrate they can add value in new ways will protect their income. Those enamored with the ants will be forced to fight for fewer and fewer traditional jobs. Ultimately, human survival will depend on an effective strategy to leverage the synergies between humans and technology. We need to work smarter to regain our advantage.
What are your thoughts on the future job market? Share your comments below.
For more information about me and my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love (Second Edition) and companion recording, Surrender to Your Purpose go to LouisEfron.com, Amazon.com and iTunes.
Published on Forbes, 28 October 2015