Are we on the cusp of a robot revolution?

Photo credit - bykst via

Photo credit – bykst via

There is a wave of technology that is about to wash over us. Some organisations are already tinkering at the edges, others have fully embraced it. It is the rise of the robots. Artificial intelligence. And, it is coming to a workplace near you!

What do we mean by artificial intelligence (AI)?
AI is intelligence exhibited by machines. An “intelligent” machine is a flexible, rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions to maximise the achievement of a goal (Wikipedia, 29 July 2016). The term AI is used when a machine mimics human cognitive functions like learning and problem solving.

AI is becoming accepted as part of the every day. You probably even have it near at hand. There’s Siri – the digital assistant found on your i-phone. Alexa, another digital assistant/companion on a device called Echo. Perhaps you are acquainted with Cortana – the Microsoft digital assistant on your PC or laptop. Each of these purports to help you locate and use the smarts of their resident device. They are voice-activated and responsive.

AI and jobs
Many jobs include tasks that can and will be automated. There are knowledge-work jobs that will succumb to the rise of the robots. Jobs that are composed of work that can be codified into standard steps and decisions based on cleanly formatted data, are the ones being targeted.

A recent program of 4 Corners cited predictions that “> 5,000, 000 Australian jobs will disappear in the next 15 years, as a result of technology. That’s 40% of the jobs that exist in Australia today” (Future Proof, screened 4 July 2016).

Some workers are at high risk of losing their jobs to smart machines. The trouble is, it may not be the workers you think. Work that is easily replicated has always been at risk. Now knowledge workers are in the robot-developer sights.

Smart machines
Any rule-based and data driven jobs are vulnerable. A recent HBR article, suggests compliance jobs are ripe for the picking (Kirby & Davenport, 2016). Compliance is all about rules. And we do have a lot of rules. In an increasingly regulated and litigious society, there is no end of paperwork to comply with government and professional guidelines. The use of such smart technology to make that easier or reduce the load on employees represents a cost saving.

Developments in the AI and machine learning across the professions, is what will be a game changer. The legal profession is a case in point. There are computer systems that are capable of analysing information and providing the application of appropriate legislation. Some suggest, medical diagnoses will be conducted by someone operating a computer in which symptoms and test results are entered.

Machine learning
The smarts of data systems can be displayed through the use of algorithms to produce predictive data models and software that analyses behavioural data. Have you ever noticed how the ads on the side of your browser change to reflect products/services related to your recent searches? Such analytics are derived whenever you are browsing online, when you engage in social media platforms and probably when you are shopping online.

Machine learning uses algorithms to build analytical models, helping computers “learn” from data. It can now be applied to huge quantities of data to create new applications eg driverless cars.

What does it mean for you and me?
Do you work in technology? Could you? The 4 Corners program suggests that robots may take over jobs, but someone needs to program the robots. So – fancy a career in programming? It does mean that young people are probably going to need a very different education than traditionally offered. Programming will probably be standard within that.

There will always be a need for people to work on people matters. Anything that requires interpersonal skills may stand a chance of survival. This will include teaching, facilitating group processes, counselling, coaching and providing insight into how people may need to work together. There will be other jobs around, but we may have to re-frame our careers and adopt a flexible approach to work.

What about you? Is your career vulnerable? Are you ready for the robot revolution?

Kirby, Julia & Davenport, Thomas H. 2016. The Knowledge Jobs Most Likely to Be Automated. Harvard Business Review, 23 June 2016.

The State of Artificial Intelligence

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