In a recent study by the Pew Research Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, 1,800 technology experts were asked about the future of man vs. machine in 2025. Will we live harmoniously with robotic technology, or will virtual employees displace humans?
More than half (52%) said they believe that the potential impact of technology will transform the type of work done today and will create new and greater value added roles. In contrast, just under half (48%) said they predict robots will take more jobs from humans than they create, expressing concerns that technology will cause an economic shrinkage in the workforce.
This fear is nothing new. If there were no fear, we would likely not be talking about radical change. When the cotton gin was introduced, it induced panic that it would eliminate jobs. On some farms the machine was set ablaze. We imagine dystopian futures, but throughout history technology has not only provided efficiencies to organizations and provided better products to customers but has also improved the quality of life for employees.
Look at the IT industry’s own industrial revolution. Thirty years ago, database administrators (DBAs) were highly skilled specialists and the only workers who could solve issues such as a blocking lock — two competing queries that block each other. Today, any DBA can remedy a blocking lock. What’s more, we now have “virtual engineers” that handle these kinds of repetitive tasks. Instead of putting out fires, DBAs can tackle more rewarding project-based work such as building new environments and architecting solutions. And as the technology absorbs more of the complexity involved in processes, junior, less skilled engineers can move up to take on database administrator functions that were formerly unattainable.
Increased automation is also supporting growth of business volumes without eradicating margin. In Sweden, Teliasonera’s service provider subsidiary, Cygate was able to increase its number of customers and revenues by 56% over two years without having to expand its delivery team. Most importantly customer satisfaction rose in parallel to achieve a 15% improvement as the team re-scoped roles to place maximum effort on the factors that customers valued most highly. What’s more, with the use of virtual engineers, Cygate’s human engineers have shifted their workload to focus on value creating activities, leading to increased job satisfaction. Technology also enables people to do radically different jobs.
Today’s Mad Men bear little resemblance to their Don Draper forerunners. Digital marketing has created a surge in new tools that capitalize on the capability of mobile and online communication. People have not only developed new skills in order to master those technologies but have invented new processes to reach customers.
Entrepreneurs willing to exploit technology trends have lower barriers to entry than ever before. From the Facebook-sized success stories to the millions of thriving mom and pop stores online, technology has opened up access to huge markets at less cost than ever before.
Without a doubt, robotic and cognitive systems will assume a major role in tomorrow’s economy. Their impact in the workforce will be felt globally and at a more accelerated pace than any previous shifts in technology-led change. We are redefining the role of the human being in the workplace, and our ability to find new jobs is only limited by our imagination.
I believe that technology will create more jobs than it takes away in the medium term, and it will allow employees to have jobs that are more interesting, relevant and satisfying. How quickly we embrace this potential and adapt to exploit new possibilities will determine how long it takes us to define new roles which replace those no longer required.