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How many of you believe robots and artificial intelligence will take jobs?

*Everyone’s hands go up.

How many of you believe machines will take your job?

*No one moves.

Robots, AI and other disruptive new technologies are expected to displace a significant number of office and manual labor jobs that pay $20 to $40 an hour, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report. It won’t happen all at once, and that’s a blessing and a challenge. Slowly, then quickly, machines will replace certain human jobs. We might not hear about most of them because they’ll happen in pockets of geographies and industries. But in the not too distant future, we’ll see the great extent that robots are among us, and that people will no longer be able to apply for the jobs that some humans work at today.

How robotics and AI will change jobs has been top of my mind since the national election’s emphasis on bringing back jobs to the USA. While the current administration focuses on the past, AI and automation overall is already tackling jobs that we once believed only humans can do. According to new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, when one or more industrial robots were introduced into the workplace, 6.2 jobs were eliminated from a local area where people commute for work.

Technology always displaces jobs. There are those who believe ” We’ll be fine. ” simply because humans endure. The current state of U.S. politics underscores a great divide between those with and without wealth, and how those extremes affect perspectives and, ultimately, policies. Realists know the jobs that “vanished” aren’t returning. Furthermore, if the existing wealth divide continues to source new profits from automation as the “employee” of choice, more human aka meat-based workers will be displaced. Boston Consulting Group, for example, estimates that the number of industrial robots around the world will quadruple by 2025. It doesn’t stop there. If you believe office jobs are safe, think again.

Tech also creates jobs including jobs to build, maintain, program robots. Do you want to add a line about tech also creates jobs? The first theme of the Pew report is:Advances in technology may displace certain types of work, but historically they have been a net creator of jobs.

From the “rust belt” to the coming “brain wash,” we are on the cusp of witnessing busy cubicles and offices becoming ghost towns.

The Robots are Coming! The Robots are Here!

Do not pay attention to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin when he says robots aren’t anything we workers need to think about right now. At an Axios event in March 2017, he claimed that AI supplanting people’s jobs is”not even on our radar screen….50 to 100 more years away. I’m not worried at all. In fact, I’m optimistic.”

Yet in 2016, economists under the Obama administration told Congress there is an 83% chance that workers earning less than $20 an hour will lose their jobs to robots. Those who receive up to $40 an hour face a 31% chance of losing their jobs to automation. Starting immediately and expanding over time, these economists worried that middle-skilled Americans are standing in the path of automation, including clerks, bookkeepers and assembly-line workers. (I would share the report with you but the current administration doesn’t believe the public needs to read it because it’s no longer available online.)

The 2014 Pew Research Center report forecasts by 2025 robots and so-called digital agents will displace more jobs than they create.

Artificial intelligence is already competent enough to perform some jobs of humans who felt safe at their desks. In one instance Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance in January 2017 reportedly replaced 34 human insurance-claim workers in Japan with the IBM Watson Explorer.

A 2015 Fortune robotics article, 5 white-collar jobs robots already have taken, deserves to be revisited. Author Erik Sherman discovered instances where machines are performing, in limited instances, the jobs of trained professionals:

  1. Financial and sports reporters,
  2. Online marketers,
  3. Anesthesiologists, surgeons and diagnosticians,
  4. Discovery lawyers and law firm associates, and
  5. Financial analysts and advisors.

At South-by-Southwest 2017, I spent time with the CEO of one of the most recognized luxury, auto brands. Privately, he shared that he proactively communicates with his factory workers about automation displacement, and is developing plans to move affected workers into new roles. But he was honest noting that not everyone displaced will have a new job at this factory. He also shared with me a personal story. His daughter, today a successful radiologist, is already studying for a new medical career because radiology is expected to be automated.

We Need to Reframe the Problem. It’s Not Us vs. Them, It’s Us vs. Ourselves

To the extent we can take control of what’s to come to the future workforce as leaders and individuals cannot be overstated. MIT researcher Matt Beane told Fortune: ” I don’t think we have a good handle on this. The end-game scenarios seem kind of severe. From here on in, it’s really, really, really going to change and it’s going to change faster than we can handle.”

Technology reporter and good friend J.D. Sartain, who writes for CIO, Network Worldand Computerworld, and I recently were talking about AI and the future of jobs. During our discussion, she asked a brief, but foreboding, question that I initially underestimated: What are the human jobs of the future in an era AI?

After all, there is no shortage of possibilities. I didn’t care to repeat what others already said. At the same time, I took her question to task. After initial thought and research, I struggled to offer specific titles and descriptions. Sartain’s question was the impetus for me. Not only did I need to answer her question, but also doing so would help me help others raise awareness and pursue productive solutions.

We do live in interesting times. The entire premise of normality is being pushed further from the comforts of yesterday’s reality. Disruptive technologies threaten a wide range of today’s jobs. What’s also threatening is the lack of awareness and productive discussions around this threat. The future doesn’t have to be bleak.

Our future is rooted in a matter of perspective. Do you see the glass half empty or half full? I’ve always believed that this question assumed an inanimate state where a glass is just sitting there. But the nature of the discussion changes if there’s context and activity. Are you pouring into or out of the glass?

This is true for the jobs of the future. We stand at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path or do we begin to learn and unlearn what we need to evolve and progress? If you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you’re on the wrong side of innovation.

Whether it’s AI, robots or change in general, what we do about disruption is often a choice early in the cycle of evolution. For example, in 1999, an analyst shared with Blockbuster executives his take how new tech might change their video-rental business: Investor concern over the threat of new technologies is overstated. These famous last words helped place Blockbuster on a direct path to irrelevance. We always face disruption. What’s old eventually gives way to what’s new. It’s what we do about change and when we act that matters. While the world fights for the jobs of the past, innovation quickly eats jobs of the present. Every day, more and more jobs are at risk of becoming automated or displaced by emerging technologies. And, it comes at a frightening cost – the widespread elimination of jobs and displaced workers around the globe. Sooner rather than later, there will be sweeping job reform in the name of progress and it won’t stop. Technology will continue to advance. It always has. The massive efforts to “bring jobs back,” in hindsight, will be for naught.

The real investment with the greatest return is helping employees learn new skills and gain valuable expertise that apply to the jobs of the future. To do this takes great care and empathy. No one wants to hear that they’re replaceable. No one wants to see that his or her experience and worth are eroding. No one wants to believe that change will target him or her. The late author and futurist Alvin Toffler first referred to this situation in 1965 as Future Shock. Simply stated, it’s a personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time.” This anxiety disorients and disconnects people, who react as if frozen in place as the technology society evolves.

Change Starts with You

Ignorance is bliss until it’s not. But what if we reframe the automation-eliminates-jobs problem as an opportunity? In theory, everyone can support a plan that increases personal value and net worth. It switches this dilemma from a have toto a want to learn and unlearn new skills to survive and thrive in the future. The question is, who’s responsible for teaching students and training the workforce of the future today? We are. While it’s in the best interest of institutions and organizations everywhere to invest in human development, we cannot solely rely on others to shape our future. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for my path is me.

I see the world changing, but I can’t personally see it ever affecting me.

Search on Google, ” jobs that no longer exist” and read a list of jobs outmoded by innovations. It’s reality. As technology advances in intelligence and capabilities that approach human, the number of jobs threatened will dramatically accelerate. What’s scary is that we’re too busy in the present to see that we, individually and collectively, are displaceable and replaceable. I often say that I tried to be innovative once, but I got stuck in meetings all day.

Automation isn’t evil. Every day, management teams consciously make decisions to automate systems and processes for profitability and scale. The challenge is whether or not employees choose to consider how their job might be affected. Ask a room of employees how many of them believe technology will take over human jobs, everyone will agree it’s unavoidable. But if you ask them to raise their hands if they believe their job will be directly affected, most likely the response will be much different. People usually assume change will happen to the other person, not to us. As Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once said: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

Move in a New Direction by Choice

Your career is in your hands. This is not only business, it’s personal. Each worker, every single human being must take responsibility for his or her personal development. Don’t wait for someone to push you forward or miraculously save you from the future (or yourself). I am 100% in support of employers, educational institutions and government doing their part to future-proof the workforce. But no one should wait idly following the same routines day in and day out, or assume their current career trajectory will stay constant. Change is constant. Everyone must broaden and modernize their skills. What we know and what we need to know are separated by what we choose to see around us. Yes, it’s scary. But it can also be empowering if you let it.

Disruption either happens to you or because of you. Start by exploring the jobs of the future and those that are continually expected to jump into the dead pool. Then put yourself on a path that seeks input, education and experience that closes the gap between you and tomorrow’s jobs.

We should:

  • Talk to teachers and educational administrators about their plans for disruption.
  • Work with HR to narrow the gap between today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.
  • Petition management not only to communicate but to lead development for the modernization of the workforce.
  • Contact your political representatives to create policies that advance educational reform.
  • Personally learn, unlearn and embrace self-growth and advancement.

As someone who studies digital Darwinism, digital transformation and business evolution, I cannot emphasize enough, how important it is for business, education and political leaders to invest in technology and human capital. To invest in tomorrow’s workforce and move people into the jobs of the future starts with learning from modern-day politics. Yet as counter-intuitive as it might seem, empathy and the ability to understand and share the feeling of another helps us build bridges between where we are and where we need to be without challenging one’s belief system.

Now Hiring: Humans for the Future – Apply Within

Modernizing human capital is not a choice or a cost-center. It is an investment in the future. It’s imperative that we bring people to the future instead of leaving them behind. Doing so promotes unity. Otherwise we create division. Now’s the time for action. If AI systems and robots are going to get hired, we need to prepare for worker displacement and not replacement. Now’s the time for education and HR reform to teach skills and disciplines for tomorrow’s jobs and train/re-train employees to stay on the value-added side of automation.

Sartain also asked me to think through job titles and descriptions for the jobs that don’t exist today. Here’s my initial high-level list to move the conversation forward. What new jobs would you add to this list?

Drone engineer: Design, build and repair drones and drone flight sequences. Also engineer drone applications, performance and choreography, i.e. Intel’s Super Bowl halftime show.

Robotics engineer: Design, build and support robotic equipment for use in everyday industrial, consumer, and vertical scenarios.

Organ Designer/Farmer: Proactively grow human organs for immediate readiness by all types of patients. Experiment with future organ design and development.

Robot Services: Expert who matches technology with need/applications and either designs or sources custom robot development or implementation. Then services the unit over time.

Robot Programmer and QC Inspector: Programs robots to perform specific functions and manages and optimizes performance.

Robot/AI Behavioral Specialist: Observes human and robot interaction, counsels engineers on behavioral programming and robot mannerisms and demeanor.

Robot/AI Animator/Narrative Specialist: Like Hollywood or gaming scriptwriters and character developers, AI and robots will need personalities for human engagement. This role will develop characters based on psychological and anthropological input to interact with purpose to complement specific personalities and applications.

Robot Dating Coach/counselor: As we saw in Her, people will eventually date and fall in love with technology. This role will serve as a matchmaker and counselor to cultivating successful, productive relationships.

Robot Whisperer/Therapist: Robots/AI will need training and therapy to ensure their development matches the expectations of their owners/partners.

Digital Currency Advisor: Beyond traditional financial products, digital currency advisors will help investors build wealth by investing, trading and selling emerging digital currencies.

Cyber Security/Digital Investigator: With cyber-crimes on the rise in professional and personal settings, these specialists will help individuals and companies investigate threats, solve crimes, and advise on security protocol for protection.

HR Innovator: This role will focus on identifying the jobs of the future within the organization, establishing hiring protocol and establishing training programs to transition existing employees away from eroding job functions toward new needs.

Resource Auditor aka The Skim Reaper: Assesses roles for viability and scale, identifies those that are out of date, those that can be automated, and scores individuals that can or cannot migrate to new roles.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Experience Architect: Designs new worlds and experiences for work, gaming or exploration and advises on supporting technologies to bring the desired experience at every level to life.

Data Whisperers: Data is only as useful as the questions asked, the data points collected, its analysis and how insights become actionable and executed. Data whisperers see what’s missing in data expertise, programs, operations and use across the organization to develop progressive narratives, data architecture and growth strategies.

What comes next is surprisingly (and unsurprisingly) up to you. Make choices about your future not based on what you feel entitled to, but instead what you can do to learn, grow and provide. The future is in your hands.

Imagine a pair of horses in the early 1900s talking about technology. One worries all these new mechanical muscles will make horses unnecessary. The other reminds him that everything so far has made their lives easier — remember all that farm work? Remember running coast-to-coast delivering mail? Remember riding into battle? All terrible. These city jobs are pretty cushy — and with so many humans in the cities there are more jobs for horses than ever. Even if this car thingy takes off you might say, there will be new jobs for horses we can’t imagine. But you, dear viewer, from beyond 2000 know what happened — there are still working horses, but nothing like before. The horse population peaked in 1915 — from that point on it was nothing but down. There isn’t a rule of economics that says better technology makes more, better jobs for horses. It sounds shockingly dumb to even say that out loud, but swap horses for humans and suddenly people think it sounds about right. As mechanical muscles pushed horses out of the economy, mechanical minds will do the same to humans. Not immediately, not everywhere, but in large enough numbers and soon enough that it’s going to be a huge problem if we are not prepared. And we are not prepared. You, like the second horse, may look at the state of technology now and think it can’t possibly replace your job. But technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can’t match. Just as the car was the beginning of the end for the horse so now does the car show us the shape of things to come.

I’ll leave you with this…


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