Future Friday: Repetition may spell the end of your job

Robotic food service is replacing lower level workers.

I am currently reading Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. Martin is a software development entrepreneur who has been in computer design and software development over 25 years. Working in Silicon Valley he has seen the effect of automation and robotics on the world of work. The subtitle of his book is Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. As you might imagine he does not have an optimistic outlook.

Not just the easy stuff

Ford says that many people assume that robots will take over the repetitive factory type of jobs that are more easily automated. There is already a track record for this occurring and people are familiar with this. Ford says however that factory work is not the only work that is susceptible to automation. As robots become more sophisticated and have increased capabilities a broader range of jobs will become targets of automation.

One example Ford gives is the job of making hamburgers. Considered to be one of the last havens of work for less skilled humans making hamburgers is now endangered. A robotic machine has been created to cook and assemble gourmet hamburgers. This process is akin to an assembly line process and a robot can handle it quite well. Even the human that currently says “Would you like fries with that?” is being automated out of the process by allowing the consumer to order via a touch screen or even with voice recognition.  The key is how repetitive the job is.

Predictable jobs

Most of us develop routines in our jobs. Unfortunately those routines may be the weak points that could put your job in danger. It doesn’t have to be a low paying position. Many research jobs at law firms have been automated. Once parameters for a search are determined automation can look for material with more accuracy and more speed than the legal assistants.

Ford says that “routine” may not actually be the best description of jobs that are replaceable. He suggests that “predictable” may be a better descriptor. If you job is repeatable or predictable then your job could at some point be described by an algorithm that allows automation to perform your job. We are already seeing this in some jobs that require a lot of education to perform. Radiologists are being replaced by computers which more quickly and accurately assess x-rays.

Staying human

In order to determine if you will be replaced or not in the future by automation take a close look at what you do. Is it repeatable, is it repetitive, is it predictable or is it all rules based? If the answer is yes then you are likely doomed to automation. Jobs that are based on discretion, distinction and nuance are the jobs most likely to survive. Fortunately for many HR people those jobs still exist. Make sure you have plenty of that stuff in your job description.


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