If You Want To Avoid Being Replaced By A Robot, Here's What You Need To Know

Mar 7 2014, 11:02pm CST | by

If You Want To Avoid Being Replaced By A Robot, Here's What You Need To Know
Photo Credit: Forbes Auto

Ever since 1962, when the first industrial robot was installed on an assembly line at a General Motors plant in New Jersey, machines have been replacing human workers.  In the decades that came after, just about every industry became automated to a greater or lesser extent.

For the most part, we humans have adapted nicely.  Robots could do only simple tasks, so by upgrading skills through training and education, our living standards continued to rise.  Yet more recently, that’s begun to change.

As Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson point out in their new book, The Second Machine Age, machines are beginning to take over cognitive tasks and now algorithms are even doing the work of highly skilled professionals like doctors, lawyers and creative people.  If you want to avoid being replaced by a robot these days, you better learn the right kind of skills.

Going Beyond The Same Old Routine

In the age of industrial robots, the question of who would lose out was fairly simple.  It was mostly physical labor that was getting replaced, so if you were a manual laborer working in a factory, you were at risk.  If you were working in an office doing cognitive tasks, you could assume that you were reasonably safe.

Yet as MIT’s David Autor points out in a rigorous analysis of the polarization of the US labor market, the division is no longer between manual and cognitive tasks as much as it is between routine and non-routine work.  So clerical workers, such as bookkeepers and travel agents have suffered, but financial analysts and wedding planners have done well.

In fact, I heard something similar from Lynda Chin at MD Anderson when I talked to her work about her hospital’s work with IBM’s Watson program to develop an Oncology Expert Advisor.  She said that while most doctors work on routine cases, there was a great need for expert advice when something rare came up.

Another way to look at it is that humans are not being paid for their work anymore as much as they are being paid to solve problems.  So if you’re a travel agent, you can forget about being paid to book flights, you better learn how to plan the one-of-a-kind vacation that your clients always dreamed of.  Better yet, learn how to suggest one they never thought of.

Learning To Ask Questions Instead Of Give Answers

It used to be that the smartest guy in the room was the one who had all the answers.  Knowing a lot of information was what got you good grades on tests, gave you access to top universities and propelled you into a lucrative career.  Yet even a genius from 20 years ago can’t match a normal teenager today armed with a smartphone.

In truth, humans are pretty lousy information processors.  We have fairly low capacity, error-prone memories and absolutely horrific abilities in calculation.  Computers, however excel at those things.

However, as McAfee and Brynjofsson point out in their book—and I think this is one of their most salient points—computers are still very poor at asking insightful questions.  In other words, they solve the problems we tell them to, but aren’t very good at deciding which problems to pursue.

It’s no longer that important what you know, but identifying what you don’t know that could be important is becoming an essential skill.

Improving Your Social Skills

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s considered a pleasantry.  When a computer does it, it’s considerably less charming.  That’s because we know a computer doesn’t really care.  Getting to know us does nothing to add to a machine’s existence, but human contact is something we crave and, in fact, need.

Richard Florida points out in an insightful article that, as many jobs are becoming automated, social skills are becoming increasingly important—and marketable.  Autor’s labor report also bears this out, showing that personal services has been the fastest growing job category over the last decade.

When I was growing up, yoga instructors, personal trainers and personal shoppers were rare, but now it seems like everyone has them.  The development of instructional videos, e-commerce and, more recently, wearable devices can’t replace the human touch./>/>

Unfortunately, due to the legacy of treating professionals as information processors, many jobs that emphasize social skills are poorly paid.  Yet, Zeynep Ton’s new book, The Good Jobs Strategy, shows that even in retail, firms that invest in higher salaries and better training tend to outperform ones that don’t.

The New Economy of Intent

The future is always uncertain and even McAfee and Brynjolfsson don’t pretend to have all the answers.  Yet a few things are already very clear.  The first is that things will move much, much faster than they used to and we’ll have less time to react to changes.  We must learn to prepare, rather than plan for the future.

The second is that our value will be determined not by how much we know or even how hard we work, but how well we collaborate with machines and with each other.  We will need to focus on the things that machines can’t do well, such as understanding other people’s needs and desires and imagining how we can change things for the better.

That’s the ironic thing about the new age of machines.  By automating tasks, we are liberating human imagination and the human spirit.  The more we unlock the secrets of technology, the more we find ourselves.

 
 
 />/>

RoMeLa's Robots

Source: Forbes Auto

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

IPad Air Giveaway 2014 is Online
IPad Air Giveaway 2014 is Online
Our sister site I4U News is giving away a brand new iPad Air or if you can wait an iPad Air 2. This is an $499 value.
 
 
Your Parent Or Kid Moved In: Are You Covered?
A record 57 million Americans now live in multigenerational family households — double the number in 1980, according to a new Pew Research Center study. And I bet many of them have the wrong homeowner’s or renters...
 
 
Pandora Looks to Challenge Terrestrial Radio's Dominance in Cars
Pandora Media is one of the largest Internet radio providers in the U.S. with more than 75 million active users. While the company’s active user count has increased at a robust pace historically, it is likely to slow...
 
 
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
It’s January 2026. New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gets out of his driverless car and triumphantly marches before the gathered press to introduce his prized new free agent. It’s a record-breaking contract—over...
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

One dies as spacecraft explodes in US
San Francisco, Nov 1 (IANS/EFE) One person was killed and another badly injured when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo exploded over southern California's Mojave Desert after takeoff on a test flight, the California...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
J.K. Rowling reveals details about story characters
London, Nov 1 (IANS/EFE) British author Joanne Kathleen Rowling, the author of the "Harry Potter" series, has revealed previously undisclosed background details of the saga's characters on her website, Pottermore,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Ethiopia pull out of hosting Senior Challenge Cup
Nairobi, Nov 1 (IANS) The Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (Cecafa) announced that Ethiopia had pulled out as hosts of regional football showpiece, Senior Challenge Cup. Cecafa general secretary...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Benfica beat Rio Ave in Portuguese league
Lisbon, Nov 1 (IANS) Benfica beat Rio Ave 1-0 in the ninth round of the Portuguese football league at the Estadio da Luz here. Attacking midfielder Talisca scored the only goal of the match in the 60th minute Friday,...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Lions hoping Gayle can solve top order problems
Johannesburg, Nov 1 (IANS/CMC) Highveld Lions are hoping Chris Gayle's explosive batting at the top of the order can be the catalyst to their success in the upcoming Ram Slam Twenty20 League which bowls off here Sunday...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
BCCI demands multi-million dollar settlement from WICB
Bridgetown (Barbados), Nov 1 (IANS/CMC) The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) will have to cough up nearly $42 million in order to stave off a lawsuit from the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI), stemming from...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Garth Brooks feels like 'arm candy'
Garth Brooks feels like Trisha Yearwood's ''arm candy.'' The country singer, who has been married to the 'Woman Before Me' hitmaker for 19 years, claims she is much more popular with their fans. The 52-year-old star,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kourtney Kardashian is so proud of Kendall Jenner
Kourtney Kardashian says Kendall Jenner is her ''favorite family member.'' The 35-year-old reality TV star, who is set to give birth to her third child with Scott Disick in December, is extremely proud of her 18-year-...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
German Bundesliga standings
Berlin, Nov 1 (IANS) Following are the German Bundesliga standings after Friday's match (tabulated under matches played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points), according to Xinhua. Bayern Munich...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Indian appointed to UN peacekeeping panel
United Nations, Nov 1 (IANS) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed Abhijit Guha, a retired Indian Army Lieutenant General, to a high-level panel to assess UN peace operations. Announcing the formation of the...
Read more on Politics Balla