Don’t compete with the machines or you’ll lose
I know you’ve heard this before — flying cars, the paperless office, nuclear fusion, intergalactic traveling — and you’ve become skeptical of all these promises that never materialize. But one thing is clear: big changes are coming and this time is for real.
The future is exponential
Certain technologies have an incubation period of 10–20 years. During that period, progress is not apparent, nor useful, but then, all of a sudden, the growth curve becomes exponential and mass adoption becomes a reality.
We’ve seen all this before with the internet, cellphones, and video on demand. The difference is, now, the incubation period is shorter and the exponential growth stepper.
We live in an era of acceleration in which changes are becoming faster and more disruptive.
In fact, very often technology is ready, but regulations and public perception are not. This is happening with pilotless planes and self-driving cars for example.
Combining new technologies
Disruptive changes often come from a combination of existing or emerging technologies. Take self-driving cars, for instance, they combine electric cars, 3D vision, AI, the cloud, Lidar, and some other technologies. By doing that, they take-off faster than just using one technology.
Technologies that are already here and may take your job
- IBM has a computer called Watson that is able to diagnose a patient with an accuracy of 1/100 (only make 1 mistake every 100 cases) while human Doctors have a failure rate of 1/20
- Commercial planes have been ready to fly pilot-less for years, it’s just a matter of regulation and public trust
- Driverless cars and trucks are on the street already and they are safer than humans (the bar was quite low with 1.3 million people getting killed in car accidents every year due to human error)
These are only a few examples of jobs that could disappear very soon. I don’t recommend my son to become a pilot or a doctor, careers with very long and expensive training that could be obsolete in less than 10 years.
In his book, Homo Deus, Yuval Harari explains how jobs that have a high component of data processing, could be the next to go due to the increasing power of Big Data. But these are not the only ones.
Threats to the job market
There are several threats to the job market coming from different angles. Automation, Big Data, AI, specialization, routine work, and MOOC.
Low skilled jobs like cashier, manual manipulators, cleaners, fast-food operators, waiters, and others are in danger. Sometimes it is not because the robots are coming, it’s due to the simplification of systems. I have been in hotels, shops, and bars where there is no staff to be seen. The use of mobile technology facilitates payments and identification, humans only operate in the background.
It’s not just blue-collar jobs, white-collar ones are often easier to automate — bank tellers, air traffic controllers, travel agents, accountants, lawyers, GPs, middle managers, stock traders, dispatchers — Most of these jobs are mostly about manipulating information and have a narrow scope so it’s easier to be supplanted by AI.
All professional drivers can be out of work soon, truck drivers, taxi drivers, and pilots. Those alone are a big chunk of the job market and when they go it’ll be very difficult to relocate them.
Self-driving cars have to accomplish a very complex task, with high variability and many unexpected variables. So, when they manage this successfully the rest of the driving jobs will follow.
Another benefit of driver-less technology is the promise of fewer accidents or even going down to zero fatalities when there are no human drivers on the road.
“We don’t need to protect jobs, we need to protect humans”
Teachers won’t be replaced by automation but they can be decimated by Massive Open Online Courses. These are taught by humans but due to their online nature they are scalable and the best teachers can reach millions, making traditional teachers obsolete.
Right now we are in the middle of the quarantine and many students are using online resources, when this is over, many of them may consider finishing their studies online due to the convenience and lower fees.
The more specific, the more routine, the more data manipulation and the easiest it’s to scale, the easier it is for a job to be automated.
There are jobs that are much more difficult to automate. Anything involving creativity, high variability, improvisation, and flexibility is less likely to disappear, at least for the near future.
Nurses, flight attendants, artists, psychologists, life coaches, social workers, maintenance foremen, hairdressers, caretakers, and entrepreneurs to name just a few.
To secure your job you have to become a lifelong learner, flexible, creative adaptable, and keep reinventing yourself every 5 years.