Menu
What the robot apocalypse will mean for IT, jobs and work

What the robot apocalypse will mean for IT, jobs and work

Robots are coming, and they will eventually take many of our jobs.

Google's huge entry into robotics leaves little doubt that we'll shortly be up to our armpits in robot alternatives to people. Robots will enter all aspects of our business and personal lives. Machines, vehicles, drones, cameras, sensors, you name it.

We've long known that privacy is a thing of the past. Could our job prospects go the same way after the robot apocalypse and how the heck should IT prepare for all of this?

The Robopocalypse Will Be Painful

There's a book called Robopocalypse and a movie under development. The general consensus is that the jobs that most affected will be menial, low-paying ones but this may not be the low-hanging fruit at all.

I ran across a TekCarta piece by Andrew Sheehy responding to Mark Andreessen's Financial Times column on what jobs robots will eat. Andreessen paints a glowing future when people have better access to jobs and education and still drive creativity and innovation. More new jobs will be created than taken away, he says. Larry Page has similar thoughts: Folks will work less and have far more time to spend on wonderful things because they'll share jobs. (He glosses over the part where they'll also make far less money, likely falling under the threshold where their employers pay for medical coverage.)

[ Analysis: Line Between Robots and Humans Blurring ]

I agree with Sheehy. Andreessen's view that everything will be OK overlooks the massive pain of what will likely be an Industrial Revolution at hyper speed. Not even "creativity and innovation" jobs are safe. You should think about where your job is going, and where your kids should focus their education, so you and they don't become prematurely obsolete.

A Real Person Wrote This Headline (This Time)

It's time for a discussion about what the future will bring. It won't be world of lollipops and rainbows that Andreessen and Page will live in. The world of the rich won't apply to the rest of us. Interestingly, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt better anticipates the "jobs and robots" problem, but his solution is investing in startups, which is where we'll all work while the robots do our existing jobs.

Sure, robots already do some jobs: Assembly lines, self-driving cars, delivery drones and cleaning robots, both the consumer Roomba and larger, industrial vacuums. There's a bigger threat: Workers who basically look at numbers and draw conclusions. Robots are surprisingly good at this, too. Robots could do a range of jobs including analysis, purchasing, consulting and journalism because they can look at more real-time information in less time and with better recommendations than people.

This is one downside to Big Data analytics. Once you have the information, Watson, Siri, Cortana or any other artificial intelligence-like system can do a pretty decent job of identifying the best path. In the near term, at least, people will remain in the loop, but they'll increasingly serve as little more than quality control and, unfortunately, won't operate fast enough to do the job properly.

Sheehy also created a spreadsheet that ranks the jobs that robots are most and least likely to take from people. The top jobs at risk: Financial analyst, financial advisor, industrial buyer, administrator, chartered legal executive (compliance officer) and financial trader. Least at risk: Clinical embryologist, bar manager, diplomatic services officer, community arts worker, international aid worker, dancer, aid/development worker and osteopath.

[ Features: 10 Careers Robots Will Take From You and 10 Jobs Robots Won't Take From You ]

What's interesting is that jobs that focus on dealing with people are relatively safe, while jobs that focus on analysng things aren't. Now if the people you focus on are increasingly unemployed, I have to wonder where the money's coming from to pay the salaries of the people-focused folks. (Given that folks who write about technology need an audience to consume things to pay our salaries, we shouldn't be sleeping that well, even though we aren't on the list.)

IT Departments, Jobs to Benefit From Robopocalypse?

Since so few people think about the personal impact of this automation, this is a role IT can fill. Since IT jobs are on the line as well, being a critical part of the decision matrix should provide substantial warnings about additional risk.

Those who can install, train, build, integrate and operate these new automated systems will be in high demand. Depending on the job, we have between five and 15 years to be ready for the robot apocalypse and those who aren't ready have the greatest likelihood of being displaced.

[ News: MIT Close to Getting Robots to Work As a Team ]

Implementing those automated systems won't be without pain, either. Employees will object to being displaced in large numbers. Based on past experience, the companies most aggressive with robotics are the most likely to catastrophically screw things up.

I'd like to be able to point to several companies leading the charge, but only Google seems to be aggressively investing in robots. Google's hardly friendly to IT or to jobs, and it will present more of a problem than any type of solution. Page, based on his talk, seems to think cutting incomes massively and giving people more free time will be utopian, but it's more likely to cause riots and revolts. Google may be the most frightening technology vendor we have yet seen.

We have time, but as the market marches on, we should be realistic about our expectations. The idea that the only jobs that will be affected by robots aren't our own is simply not supported. This change promises to encompass all parts of our personal and business life. At some point, we need to get our arms around this problem. If we start now, it's less likely to hit us in the butt when we least expect it.

I'm not saying you need to run for the hills, but the robots are coming, and it's time to start thinking about what that means for you, your employees and your loved ones. Put a different way, when facing a massive global change, the folks who do the best tend to be the ones that anticipate the change.

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags robotics

Featured

Slideshows

Reseller News launches inaugural Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News launches inaugural Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News welcomed 2015 and 2016 inductees - Darryl Swann, Dave Rosenberg, Gary Bigwood, Keith Watson, Mike Hill and Scott Green - to the inaugural Reseller News Hall of Fame lunch, held at the French Cafe in Auckland. The inductees discussed how the channel can collectively work together to benefit New Zealand, the Kiwi skills shortage and the future of the industry. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Reseller News launches inaugural Hall of Fame lunch
Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

​As the channel changes and industry voices deepen, the need for clarity and insight heightens. Market misconceptions talk of an “under pressure” distribution space, with competitors in that fateful “race for relevance” across New Zealand. Amidst the cliched assumptions however, distribution is once again showing its strength, as a force to be listened to, rather than questioned. Traditionally, the role was born out of a need for vendors and resellers to find one another, acting as a bridge between the testing lab and the marketplace. Yet despite new technologies and business approaches shaking the channel to its very core, distributors remain tied to the epicentre - providing the voice of reason amidst a seismic industry shift. In looking across both sides of the vendor and partner fences, the middle concept of the three-tier chain remains centrally placed to understand the metrics of two differing worlds, as the continual pulse checkers of the local channel. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable, in association with Dicker Data and rhipe, examined the pivotal role of distribution in understanding the health of the channel, educating from the epicentre as the market transforms at a rapid rate.

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel
Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar last night, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and resellers descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kickstart 2017. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017
Show Comments