Last year I read a fascinating book called “The End of Nice” by Richard Newton. The book explores how robotics and service automation are changing the society we live in and particularly how this will affect employment as we know it.
We are constantly reminded about service automation. Many industry commentators have predicted the end for millions of jobs as robots take over. Contact centre workers will all be replaced by Robotic Process Automation (RPA), retail will all go online, and truck and taxi drivers will all be replaced by self-driving vehicles. That’s the nightmare vision that many futurologists talk of, yet Newton describes quite a different scenario.
He does not deny that robots and automation will change the work environment, but he notes that there are many creative areas where robots are useless. To thrive in an age where robots can be trained to do anything means that humans need to emphasise their own differences – to become more like the artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors we see creating and innovating today.
Newton suggests that humans can co-exist with more automation, but to succeed in this environment the human workers need a different attitude. We need to be anti-safe, anti-certain, anti-moderation, anti-conformist, and anti-order. In short, to succeed in a highly creative environment means dropping many traits and behaviours that are desirable in the present-day world of work.
Next week I’m attending a conference in Oxford focused on Social Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. It sounds technical or academic, but the emphasis of the conference is on work, jobs, and how businesses will really be affected by these technological advances.
I can see from the agenda that there will be a law firm talking about their use of virtual assistants and Vodafone talking about how cognitive computing is completely changing their procurement process. Atom Bank has changed their customer service system so every query ever asked is stored and processed with the intention of learning from every customer interaction. These are all great insights into the way that real businesses are using some of these new strategies today and they certainly don’t indicate that the end of the job is with us anytime soon.
What we are now looking towards are more meaningful, less time wasting and more productive relationships with our work, our employers and one another.
As the HfS Research founder Phil Fersht recently pointed out in a detailed and well-argued piece on his own website, many of the claims around robotics and AI have no basis in data and statistics. We fear change and when business experts talk about automation the general fear is that this means the end of the line for many workers, but really it just means a change in how people will work and be employed.
Photo by Margot Wood licensed under Creative Commons.