Mon, 13 February 2017
Devin Fidler is the Research Director at the Institute for the Future and the Founder of Rethinkery Labs, a software defined organization that specializes in developing technologies to automate management.
Automation is definitely a hot topic these days and it is one that sits at the forefront of many discussions around the future of work. There are mainly two camps of people in this topic of discussion. There are those who feel that automation is inevitable and that while it will take some human jobs, it will also create a lot more human jobs and therefore won’t be as scary as it seems. They also believe that automation won’t take over as many jobs as some experts are predicting. The other group is made up of people who believe that there is no stopping the takeover and that automation will take over a majority of jobs and humans will be displaced.
Fidler believes that automation will definitely disrupt traditional jobs, however, he says it is not all negative. He says one of the real issues is that we really need to reevaluate what we define as jobs. We are likely to see more work for humans, but it’s the jobs themselves that will be the issue. With automation, finding work can become much easier as software will help match up humans to the right task, which means you can spend more time doing the work you love to do. It can also help smooth out the training process and make it more individualized to the employee. Fidler feels that “the [human] jobs question is important, but it’s not as apocalyptic as it’s sometimes framed”. Automation is not the end of human jobs, although it may change the way things like benefits, career progression and retirement are structured.
Up until now automation has really been seen as something that would takeover jobs like cashiers, bankers and factory workers. But Fidler talks about how software is moving into the C-suite and management roles. One example of this is Uber, where they are automating middle management. Today Uber is the third largest company in the U.S. (based on number of employees), right after Walmart and McDonalds. When you look at traditional taxi services the employees report to dispatchers. They rely on the dispatchers to tell them where to go and when, which routes to avoid and for help when they have vehicle issues. Now Uber has automated this process. Uber uses software to route their drivers, schedule pick-ups and even perform employee evaluations.
There is another company that Fidler mentioned that has AI on the board. For every investment decision they have all the board members weigh in and give their opinions on what to do. In this company they have given one of the board seats to an AI program that allows the software to weigh in and give a vote on each investment as well.
So how fast will this shift in our workforce take place? Fidler says we are already seeing a select few companies taking this move towards automating management, so in theory, it’s already here. But it will take some time before it becomes widespread and mainstream. A good guess would be in the next 10 years. Fidler talks about how much change we have seen in the past 10 years; smartphones, Watson, and self-driving car prototypes. Think of how much our world could change in just 10 more years.
In this shift towards a day when software could run the company, Fidler gives advice he feels can span across all levels of workers from newly hired employees in their first job up to heads of organizations who have been there for 30+ years. He says, “you can’t take any momentum and previous advantages that this part of the world has had for granted. It is a new game where rewards will go to those who figure out what the new logic looks like”. You cannot stay complacent and think that you will be safe from automation. It is also important for us to have these conversations now, about what we want the future of work to look like and what we want these automated programs to do while it is in the early stage. Fidler says, “the Industrial Revolution really favored the U.S., if we want the same kind of thing we have to do it deliberately, it can’t be by accident”.
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(Music by Ronald Jenkees)