Robots and computers are able to replace most jobs soon. Even though this seems science fiction it is very close and it will affect ALL job areas. It’s a matter of years now instead of decades, massive layoffs are inevitable. Unless you are retired on a beach somewhere you need to start preparing now.
Scientists raised the alarm at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington. According to Professor Vardi (Rice University in Texas) the development of Artificial Intelligence is going so fast now that we need to take measures. Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM are literally investing billions in this. University researchers make advancements every single week. Oxford University and Deloitte found that about 35% of current jobs in the UK will be taken over in the following 20 years. Other studies show 47%. These estimates are probably still too conservative. It will transform how we do things in the future just like the internet transformed things now.
I have personally seen it when I was at Shell, one of Shell’s most innovative minds was my direct colleague and mentor. Together we tested one of the leading virtual assistants (like Google Now and Siri) and compared notes with a parallel experiment with IBM’s Supercomputer, Watson. What we have seen looks very similar to what happened with the personal computer and mobile phones.Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen said that when the Personal Computer no one at the time believed it would ever be in every home. Even though it seemed unlikely a couple of years ago, now we can do things with our phones which I never imagined. I definitely did not imagine that combining my phone with a Google’s Cardbox or Samsung VR would turn into a Virtual Reality device. There are a lot of small but foundational advancements being made in the field of robots and A.I., which will all come together soon. I am by no means an expert, but this is happening.
The current knowledge economy as we know it will change. I expect this to be similar to the industrial revolution. In the industrial revolution jobs performed by people were taken over by machines, even jobs no-one at the time thought could be performed by machines. This shifted our society from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. Now we face the knowledge revolution. Knowledge-related jobs that will be taken over by robots and computers, even the jobs that we think they cannot perform. This means that we will need to shift again. To where is still unknown. My guess would be to a creation economy.
Warren Buffet has an awesome quote which applies here. “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”. In this case swimming naked means that you did not prepare to shift, and swimming naked is not a good thing. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, we should all start to shift. Especially when you are at the start of your career you greatly benefit from these new developments. In a lot of ways human intelligence will remain superior to those of computers. Especially, on the creation-side. There is a positive end to this story, but only for those that embrace the shift. To understand how we can prepare lets first take a look at how we will be replaced. Feel free to skip to the sections that you care about.
* Disclaimer: these are my thoughts combining what I know with logical reasoning and what is happening right now in the world. I could be wrong as I am not a computer scientist nor an artificial intelligence expert. Then again this stuff is right in front our noses It’s more the case that we rather look away than face what is happening.
How us humans will be replaced by robots
If you have seen the movie Iron Man you know Jarvis. He is Tony Stark’s personal assistant and supports him in everything he does, both digitally as well as with physical things like putting on Tony’s suit. At one point he actually controls the Iron Man suit himself. An assistant like that would be awesome right? Mark Zuckerberg agrees. That is why he has made it his personal mission for 2016 to create Jarvis. Jarvis will be everywhere and available to everyone at one point. When I say Jarvis, I mean artificial intelligence as a whole rather than a specific program. This is how Jarvis will take your job. I am a pretty skeptical person, but I wouldn’t bet against Mark. That guy knows what he is doing.
The irony is that Jarvis is actually a human butler in the comics. Similar to Alfred who is the butler of Bruce Wayne’s/ Batman. Having only seen the movies I assumed that Jarvis has always been a computer. My guess is that I am not alone. There will come a time where for a lot of jobs we will just assume that robots have always done them.
Blue collar work
The physical aspect of the changes are easy to imagine, they just seem far away while in reality they are quite close. Google’s car can drive from one side of the United States to the other side. Tesla is rapidly upgrading their cars as well. Apple, Facebook and not to forget all the car manufactures are jumping in the game. If all vehicles can drive themselves why would we still need taxi drivers, bus drivers or Uber drivers? Why would we need garbage men if garbage trucks can pick up the trash themselves? Why would we still need to own cars? It would be much cheaper to pay per ride or have a subscription to self driving cars to get us from A to B. Cars will be luxury items rather than necessities. But still 10% of the jobs in the U.S. are related to driving cars. Jarvis will take your jobs. If you apply this idea to other work you will see that a lot of jobs won’t be needed soon. Flipping burgers at McDonalds? Unnecessary. People cleaning your house? Better use RoomBot instead. Cashiers and people that restock shelves? All automated. Delivery vans? Drones will take care of that. Engineers and mechanics will probably last longest because they combine quite a bit of knowledge with their physical activities. But here there will be a shift as well. Even prostitutes will be replaced eventually according to Prof Vardi. Afterwards they will probably make you breakfast, clean your house, water your plants and drive themselves back.
White collar work
Call centers shifting from India to the Philippines will be responsible for $30 billion in lost foreign exchange earnings this decade. What they don’t realize though is that they will probably ALL be replaced by our good friend Jarvis. Most of these tasks are simple things like resetting your password, getting information, or going down a checklist to identify the problem. I have seen how simple software can do all of this. People in call centers use scripts and work process documents, these are already written out for them. Now imagine that Jarvis can read those documents himself and basically answer all the questions, execute all simple tasks, and diagnose all (relatively simple) problems that call center workers do. No imagine that he is able to speak and read every language on the planet. Jarvis does not require a monthly wage, pension, insurance, massage rooms, slides, and costs about 1/10th. You might think, I am not a call center worker so I am safe. But be realistic, how much of your work consists of executing simple tasks, answering questions, and going down a checklist to identify issues? You should be worried if your answer is mostly. Once the Jarvis of today can read work instructions, he can probably do your job.
Most people doing knowledge work tend to think that they are safe. Knowledge work requires you to specialize in an area, like doctors, lawyers and economists do. While Jarvis will not be able to replace you completely, he will replace the majority of your tasks. Yes, knowledge workers and specialists need to shift as well. Being a knowledge worker myself (specialized in Business IT), I feel your pain.
My wife has studied law and is one of the young talents at the Dutch Public Defense Department (Openbaar Ministerie in Dutch) and her work will change a lot. The knowledge part here will disappear. No longer will it be necessary to find the right article related to a case, Jarvis will do that. He will analyse the case, find relevant articles, and auto-generate legal correspondence. He will probably be able to do 80% of all work lawyers and public defenders do currently. But there is that 20% that requires human judgement. It’s when the law does not give a clear cut answer. It’s in that grey area where lawyers and public defenders need to think beyond the law and take different circumstances into account. Because the world changes, laws will change as well. To understand how old and new laws can be applied to a forever changing world, we need human judgment and creativity.
Advancements here are huge and rapid. Similar to law most work in medicine will be done automatically. Jarvis will diagnose patients and figure out what’s wrong with them. Jarvis will also do the reception work and probably the work of nurses. I know this is hard to imagine without the human touch. Think of Betamax from the movie Big Hero 6. Both very endearing and a robot at the same time. With increased computer vision and precision robots might even do entire surgeries. The first step will be remote surgeries where doctors will perform surgeries from a distance by operating machines from home. Eventually common surgeries can be done automatically because robots have seen it done over 1000 times. However, because our human bodies are changing and new diseases keep popping up we will keep needing out of the box thinking. Human work will shift towards the special cases that do not fit the book that Jarvis has read. Especially the research side of medicine should stay alive and well.
Did you know there is already a machine that displays your dreams on 10 by 10 pixels? I remember Super Mario in the 8-bit days looking like 10×10 pixels. Now everything looks amazing in Ultra HD and upcoming Virtual Reality. I imagine the same will happen here. Now imagine that Jarvis can understand what he sees in your dreams. The human mind has been less explored than space according to the famous futurist scientist, Michio Kaku. But with all new upcoming technology this exploration will be faster and Jarvis will help us understand more. On a basic psychology level Jarvis should be able to diagnose the majority of patients. He should even be able to hold conversations with people and do treatments. But mental issues are often personal and diverse so human judgement should stay important here. It does mean that as a psychologist you need to go the extra mile and focus on that human element.
Being a wide area, the impact on business will depend on the specific area. Lower-level business jobs will probably be done by Jarvis, while the creative part will stay. Here are my estimations per discipline:
Marketing will change a lot in the next coming years. Everything will more personalized because the main way we interact with the world, through the computer, is becoming more personalized as well. Eventually we will use profiles that contain a lot of information about our behavior. Jarvis will understand your personality type and your interests. This means that Jarvis will adjust websites, search machines, and even emails completely to who we are. Jarvis will also analyse how successful a campaign is. Crafting the message that stands out and that people respond to however is creative work, which requires human judgement. The same goes for applying new marketing models and adjusting to the changing tastes of the market. If you are a marketeer become a great analyst as well as a great creative.
This is a very complex field that I do not understand enough to make a prediction. On a transactional level I expect everything to be automized, meaning that Jarvis can optimize your portfolio through diversification. Jarvis will also read all news at the same time and predict if people will buy or sell and adjust accordingly. However, in a world where Jarvis trades for a million people, this competitive advantage will be lost due to market equilibrium. This is because all iterations of Jarvis will have access to the same information. I believe that our competitive edge as human will come from being able to think beyond the financial models. Can you predict synergy between companies when they will merge? Being able to assess new strategic advantages based on changing markets is where I believe that the industry will head towards.
If you are an accountant you will probably be hit hard. Almost all internal accounting work will be done by Jarvis and almost all external auditing as well. The detective work and reading people will become important for external auditors because people will try to mislead Jarvis. Similar to finance, the accountants need to shift towards being able to make strategic decisions based on numbers. Being able to come up with creative solutions that Jarvis cannot think of is how you will keep your job in the long-term. I would not recommend quitting your job now but I do recommend that you think hard on how you can create a competitive advantage.
Low-level sales will probably be taken care of by the really personal marketing strategies that we are heading towards. These are all steered by Jarvis. So indirectly a lot of low-level sales jobs will probably disappear as we are shifting to most stores being online. In the B2C market I expect sales to be done through videos, webinars, and those type of tools. Only a small part will actually will be real-time. Of course for luxury products which are very expensive we might still keep one on one sales. Most of the sales jobs however will probably shift to the B2B realm. I expect that sales will rely more and more on empathy (putting yourself in their shoes) and building rapport (creating a bond as two humans). Both of these require human judgement and creativity. If you are in sales I suggest that you become extremely good at these two things, so Jarvis won’t replace you.
Supply Chain & Logistics:
Similar to accountancy the low-level logistic jobs will probably disappear, everything will be automized. The section on blue collar work should have made that clear, Jarvis will coordinate just about everything. This means that logistic work will shift on a strategic level. How can you do things in ways that create more value for customers? If you are able to find great answers on that question then you should survive when Jarvis arrives.
Today it has a huge operational component. Think of all the service stuff around payroll, providing tools to new hires, courses, and etc. The majority is quite similar to call center work and Jarvis will probably do all of that. In order to stay ahead of Jarvis you will need to have a strategic understanding of your business and be sensitive to the changes here. All other stuff will be done by algorithms. Having this understanding and being able to combine it with common practices will allow you to create the best hiring, learning, and talent development. The human side of HR (like fostering a unique and positive culture) will keep needing people.
You can divide education in two main parts: teaching and research. I am not sure how the teaching landscape will change. I guess there will still be room for real-life teaching but I estimate that this portion will be very small. This is because people have different learning methods. Some are auditory, some visual, some kinesthetic. You also have different personality types, people are stimulated and motivated in different ways. With Jarvis adjusting websites in the future, I am pretty sure that learning will also be tailored. This means that teachers will either do mass teaching or real-life teaching in special cases. The social element will probably be more focused on student-student interaction rather than teacher-student. For research we have thinking up models (and) or applying them The application part is something that Jarvis will do for us. Gathering data and analysing it will be a breeze for Jarvis. Being able to tell us what it means and how we can apply to new fields however will require humans. For thinking up models we will also needing people. Especially in this changing world, we need that piece of common sense and creativity that Jarvis will not have. If you are in academics then don’t just apply and research models, create and improve models.
The tech world is very difficult to anticipate because it moves so fast. Coding will probably be easier and more modular than ever before. Creating relatively simple stuff is becoming more accessible every year and with artificial intelligence supporting you, I can only imagine this becoming easier. Eventually it will be similar to Lego. This means that Tech specialists will become even more specialist because of their deep understanding. They will create the Lego blocks upon which others build. This will blend from both the digital world as the physical world, which we already see happening with 3D printing. Of course to keep the world safe with all the rapid advancements cyber security will be huge. Tech as a whole will just keep expanding and will become more important than ever. It will be easier to create cool stuff, meaning that there will be more ‘technologists’. There will be a huge shift from operational tech to creative tech. The focus will be more on how technology supports the world than on how we can create stuff, engineers will become creative engineers. With more people developing stuff than ever, tech people also need to become more business savvy. The ones who create the best stuff for humans in the future will own the world.
Our competitive edge: Creative work in the creation economy
If you paid attention to the previous section you notice commonalities between what Jarvis can and probably cannot do. Artificial intelligence is very strong when it comes to supervised learning, which means you tell it what it needs to learn. It does however lack common sense, it is not able to learn unsupervised in the way that humans do. If they learned something in field A they are not able to apply it to field B and C. Even the majority of people have difficulties doing this. As Albert Einstein said: “Education is not the learning of facts, but training the mind to think.”. Computers cannot think like people can. They cannot think outside of their box. This means they cannot be creative. They cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes because they don’t feel emotions biologically like we do. This is why I don’t see a robot becoming the next Steve Jobs anytime soon. Steve brought together technology and applied in new ways that required creativity, common sense, passion, empathy (through it predicting what people want), and storytelling skills. It is those exact points that Jarvis can’t do, because all of those require a higher level of consciousness.
A great example is how Netflix created House of Cards versus how Amazon created Alpha House. Both gathered information from users but Netflix added human judgement and creative thinking on top of that. Most of you have seen House of Cards or at least knows it while almost no one heard of Alpha House. Both are political dramas about senators. Alpha house is the type of show that Jarvis would be able to make. Making House of Cards requires human intelligence (creativity, common sense, and empathy).
Currently most work is still operational. This means that you need be good at both operations (and the necessary operational knowledge) as well as creativity. We are in this transition phase between the two economies. If you are already a creative then don’t neglect the operational skills. You still need them. If you are operational then work hard the next years to develop creative and strategic thinking. You will soon need it.
This article addresses scary things but no need to panic. Jarvis isn’t here yet. As Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching (probably the wisest book written in the history of mankind): “Prepare for the difficult while it is still easy. Deal with the big while it is still small. Difficult undertakings have always started with what’s easy.”. Making the shift is still easy now. Prepare for the creators economy, develop your creativity, common sense, empathy, and storytelling. Become more entrepreneurial both inside and outside of your work. Go the extra mile in your work and seek out these opportunities. Find an area you are passionate about and become really good at it. You need that passion to be able to excel. Expand your interests across disciplines. Build your creative and people-focused track record. By the time when Jarvis does arrive he will no longer be able to replace you. Better yet you will be able to complement each other. Jarvis will be your new friend.
Eventually Jarvis will be amazing for the world because he will enable more people to create awesome stuff. More awesome stuff means a more awesome world. We will be able to focus on the things that we really care about. This means that we cannot mindless choose jobs any more. We will need discover who are and how we can ‘live in our genius’. How we can offer real value to the world. I am ready to become part of the creator economy and offer real value to the world. I am ready to go on this journey of self discovery and embrace our new future. The question is: are you?