For a decade now, my two blogs have been yin and yang. New Florence keeps me excited about new technologies, Deal Architect keeps me level headed about the economics of technology and the slow adoption rates in most enterprises.
That balance has been handy in the last few weeks as I research the impact of automation technologies on various occupations and industries. I see many of my peers excited about machine learning or 3D printing or autonomous vehicles but unrealistic about adoption timelines. The collective effect is we are creating panic scenarios about job losses. Add to that the opportunistic talk of politicians during a Presidential year and we are creating unnecessary pessimism about jobless futures.
Take Elon Musk’s recent comment that you should be able to summon a Tesla from across the nation in a couple of years. I am seeing extrapolation to Uber with driverless cabs and the end of parking lots. Forget that Musk went “wink-wink” about the timeline as he said ““ I might be slightly optimistic on that.”
A much more established car company, Mazda is betting people will never give up their love of driving. Audi’s new Q7 SUV has 35 features to protect a driver from human failings. They are betting humans will be driving for a long, long time. Many city speeding budgets are counting on that. Many insurance companies are counting on that. History is on their side – see how many millions of drivers around the world have not adopted automatic transmission, an invention which dates back to 1921!
Two Oxford professors analyzed over 700 occupations in 2013 and rated them by “susceptibility to computerisation”. Their category of “Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks” shows a 98% probability of likely impact. Again they did not try to estimate how long it would take for such impact. Of course auditing is different from the first day I stepped into Price Waterhouse. Most clients now have ERP systems, there are Big Data tools and forensic technologies for auditors to use. But will audit firms overnight quit recruiting young accountants? Not for a while, and they are already working with universities to develop much more tech, infosec-savvy accounting majors.
My research is showing there are several “speed-breakers” to too much automation
a) The tech hype cycle – something Gartner has talked about for decades also applies to most automation technologies. The technology being peddled is often 2-3 generations away from industrial grade application.
b) Enterprise adoption cycles – are always slower than you expect even when the payback analysis appears compelling
c) Customers inconsistently embrace automation – stick shift cars, print copies of books, branch banking, cashiers at stores – decades after we thought they would disappear they continue to flourish.
d) Labor adapts to automation – nothing like the hostility the Luddites showed to machines in the 1800s, but today’s labor has tacit knowledge which often makes complete jobs difficult to automate. Individual tasks can be automated and labor evolves.
e) The Gig economy – Profound changes are taking place in the employer-employee relationship way beyond what automation is influencing. Companies are dramatically changing with their own digital transformations. Workers with multiple employers, crowdsourcing etc are changing the labor economy.
Every profession is becoming more digital, “smarter”. Four years ago, when I wrote The New Technology Elite I observed that in just about every industry : The lightbulb has gone on in even savvier CEOs. “If the consumer lives in the world of iPads and Kindles, can our own product be rethought to be more appealing to this tech-savvy consumer?”
Surrounded by smart cars, smart homes, smart everything, we are similarly seeing every occupation become “smarter”. The man-machine balance is changing but man is not disappearing in most of them.
So let’s focus on letting machines make our jobs less repetitive, less dangerous, less wasteful – and quit working ourselves into a froth about jobless futures.
(Image credit: Bigstock)
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)