Posted by & filed under General, Hot Topics, Social.

Can we out-think robots in the job stakes?

Can we out-think robots in the job stakes?

New technology has always changed/destroyed/developed new jobs ever since man first realised he could use a tool/weapon and hitch an animal to his plough to make his life easier and more productive.

Professor of business administration at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Edward D Hess has his latest book just out – Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization – and he wrote on Wired (28 July 2014) about ‘the tsunami of AI’ that is coming.

The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and Smart Machines by John Kelly and Steve Hamm has discussed in depth the spectres of the sweeping changes that are coming.

Here at MBF Blogs we have looked at employment through the prism of technological change many times. Below are a selection of links.

Robot Tsunami

So, it’s a live issue, how the robot tsunami will ‘remake the workplace’, according to Hess. Non-human employees are ‘fast, accurate and reliable – more so than their human counterparts.’ He said Foxconn are replacing a million workers in China with robots to meet the predicted demand for Apple’s iPhone 6.

Amazon’s army of robot gatherers, AI reading/sorting legal papers and MRIs and writing news articles all point to the pressing human need to ask ourselves: ‘What can we do better than smart machines? How can more of us compete against them?’

There is an optimism and a refusal to be alarmed among many observers, given how technology creates new jobs and opportunities all the time. But Hess cited a study from Oxford University (Frey and Osborne, 2013) which looked at over 700 types of jobs done in the USA and considered whether they were at low, medium or high risk of being displaced within 20 years.

He said, ‘Their startling conclusions: 47 percent of total U.S. employees have a high risk of being displaced by technology, and 19 percent have a medium risk. That means that 66 percent of the U.S. workforce has a medium to high risk of job destruction. If they are only half right, the numbers are staggering.’

What to Do?

If the jobs at greatest risk are those deploying repetitive activity in a stable environment that do not ‘require the ability to perceive and adapt to subtle changes or to engage on an emotional level with other people’, (manufacturing, packing, construction, maintenance, agriculture, food service, cleaning services), they concluded ‘you should get training for a job that requires the perception of changing circumstances and corresponding physical motion and dexterity. Those are skills that you can hone, but which are still very hard for robots to do.’

Low risk jobs are in science, engineering, the arts, education, health care, law, and business management. ‘Workers in those areas generally need high-level cognitive or emotional skills. They must know how to think critically and innovatively, and/or they need to have developed high levels of social and emotional intelligence. Those are skills that technology is not likely to master soon.’

Hess pointed out that many people haven’t mastered them either. ‘We are cognitively biased, lazy thinkers.’ Others agree that humans tend to reject what doesn’t fit our preconceptions, we are ‘emotionally defensive.’ We need to

  • manage our emotions better and
  • stop emotions from dominating our thinking
  • embrace evidence that contradicts our world views
  • engage emotionally with other people in a way that no machine can.

Polish Our Emotional Intelligence

Hess described how employers can put us in an environment that teaches us these skills. He said that Pixar Animation Studios has a system designed ‘to promote candor and constructive, creative conflict.’ They run frequent “Braintrust” meetings, at which work products are ‘reviewed and critiqued in a way that teaches people to receive feedback with an open mind, without their egos getting in the way, and to become comfortable knowing what they do not know.’

Hess concluded that while there are no overnight solutions for us in transforming our cognitive and emotional skills, we need a collaborative team around us to start sharing and learning because ‘we are capable of out-thinking smart machines.’

We just need to start now. Let’s hope he’s right.

Jobs and robots related blogs from our archives:

The Future of Work In 5 Years Is Both Good News and Bad, 18 March 2014

In the Future, The Average Is History, the Machine Is King, 30 September 2013

Domestic Robots Are But a Few Months Away from Rescuing Us, 25 March 2014

Beyond Blue Sky Thinking Will Sort Out Jobs for Our Future, 27 January 2014

Young and Unemployed? You Shouldn’t Be in This Digital Era! 17 September 2013

No Place for the Human Touch in Complex Algorithms, 20 August 2013

Robots Googling Each Other Was Only a Matter of Time, 21 May 2013

After Robot Soldiers and Robot Surgeons, Stand Up for Robot Teachers, 5 March 2013

Jobs 3: There’ll Always Be a Job application in the Working Future, 23 July 2014

Jobs 2: Tech Backlash or Last Hurrahs of the Technophobes? 22 July 2014

Jobs 1: Fancy a Brain Processing Transplant to Boost Job Prospects for 51-hour Working Weeks? 21 July 2014

We Only Asked You to Do One Job … 12 February 2014

Image: GillyBerlin