By Larry Boyer | 23 July 2018
There is rightfully at lot of excitement about the amazing things AI, robots and other forms of automation can do. Whether it’s the simple novelty of artificial intelligence studying the works of Bach and composing a new Bach-like symphony or something more serious like AI diagnosing medical conditions and exoskeletons to help us lift and avoid injury or even walk again, robots and other automation tools continue to capture our attention leaving us wondering, “what’s next?”
It’s a question we’ve both been fascinated by and feared for centuries and across cultures around the world. A third century Chinese text known as the Lei Zi tells of an engineer who impressed King Mu of Zhou with a mechanical human that walked, moved its head and even sang. Liurparnd of Cremona reported of seeing mechanical lions, trees and birds on his visit to Constantinople in 949 CE. In the mid-1500s Juanelo Turriano created a mechanical monk that raised its arms, turned its head, moved its mouth and more all from a wound spring. And there was the Golden Age of Automata from 1848–1914 that saw the rise of small, family owned businesses that used the newly developed mass production techniques to create autonomous toys. Fast forward to today and we have increasingly realistic robots and AI like Sophia®, who became the first robotic citizen of a country, Pepper®, the Jeopardy® winning Watson®, AlphaGo® and many others.
Automation and You
As technology advances, AI and robots are increasingly moving from curiosity and entertainment to practical tools capable of working, analyzing and creating. In the past we’ve seen robots and automation take jobs in manufacturing plants and some office jobs like secretaries, phone operators and stenographers. But today we’re seeing AI make in roads in claims processing, analytics, paralegals, lawyers, sales and marketing and more. Areas where higher levels of education and skills are needed.
AI is capable of ingesting vast volumes of data, recognizing patterns and making decisions all at a scale beyond human abilities. Of course, there is a lot of discussion at conferences, in the media, academic circles and in the corporate board rooms and government halls. But these discussions focus on a high-level view point — that of “the workforce”, “employees” or even “humans.” As executives, policy makers and academics discuss the broad implications of AI and robots in the workplace, little attention is paid to the specifics — the individual people and what will happen to them.
Aside from burger flipping, how many specific jobs have you heard people talk about robots replacing people? Even then, how many CEOs have you heard tell their workforce — “In one year we will be replacing everyone who flips burgers with a robot. This will open new opportunities in online marketing. If you are interested in this work, here is a training course you can take to start learning this new skill set.”?
You’re On Your Own
With decision makers focused on the big picture, where does that leave you? If you’re lucky, you work for a company that is transparent about the transformations it is undergoing, the opportunities and threats it faces, and where you fit in with all of it. AT&T’s chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson, made such a push back in 2016.
“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop,” Stephenson said. People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning “will obsolete themselves with the technology.”(1)
And John Cryan, the now former CEO of Deutsche Bank, said in 2017 “We employ 97,000 people. Most big peers have more like half that number.”(2) There are hints that the new CEO, Christian Sewing, is looking to shed over 10,000 jobs by 2020.(3)
These are just the responses to new technologies forcing the digital transformation. Changes in the economy, shifting political preferences and trade-wars, mergers and acquisitions and even changes in your health can require you to retool and rethink your career as well.
Ultimately the message you hear coming from corporate leaders is “you are in charge of your career.” Perhaps you’ve heard this yourself.
But do you really know how? How do you keep track of trends affecting your job and company? How do you know which direction to take your career? Do you have the time and resources to collect all of this information, analyze it and develop a plan?
Taking Care of the Business of You
Certainly you’ve seen executives are spending considerable resources preparing their companies for transformation. The CEO sets the goals and direction. Information about the market place is collected by sales and marketing teams. New technologies are explored, tested and deployed by the IT teams. Investment spending and costs are managed by the finance functions. The Chief Economist keeps a look out for economic and policy trends. The strategists take in all of the information and make a plan for achieving the CEO’s goals. And operations and the business lines focus on making the transformation happen. What can you learn from all of that?
You’ve probably heard others say something like “You are the CEO of Your Life”. The fact of the matter is CEOs don’t successfully lead their company at any time, let alone through a major transformation, all by themselves. How can you possibly successfully transform yourself for the future of work all by yourself? You need to first recognize you need to be more than the CEO of Your Life and then you need to figure out how to get all of this other work done without getting overwhelmed and busting your budget.
(1) Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else, Quentin Hardy, February 13, 2016.
2) Deutsche Bank chief hints at thousands of job losses, Laura Noonan, Patrick Jenkins and Olaf Storbeck, November 8, 2017.
(3) Deutsche Bank Plans to Cut U.S. Jobs by Over 10%, Steven Arons and William Canny, April 26, 2018.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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