There’s lots of talk about the future of automation in the workplace, and most of it has a polarizing slant to it. On one hand, you have the futurists, who see automation as a gateway to a jobless future, where white-collar and blue-collar jobs are almost entirely replaced by machines who do it for us. On the other, you have the more conservative economists, who believe that automation is no different than any other technological leap forward, and won’t cause significant job disruption.
But the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Automation isn’t like other technologies that have disrupted jobs in the past, and for multiple reasons. It’s capable of replacing a much wider range of jobs; there are fewer new industries for unskilled or automated-out-of-a-job workers to move into; and perhaps most importantly, the pace of development is much faster than it’s ever been before. But at the same time, that rate of development isn’t so fast or brutal that it will provide no time for the workforce to adapt.
So what could a “middle ground” future of automation look like?
The Collaboration Factor
Rather than automation becoming just another tool, or replacing your job entirely, companies will likely move toward human-automation hybrid spaces. Take, for example, Pixelz, a firm that offers both human editors and product image editing AI to improve post-production retouching on demand. In the words of CEO Thomas Kragelund, “We estimate 50% of our post-production will be automated by 2019, which is possible because we’ve been analyzing a massive amount of data…image editing is complex, but breaking it down into hundreds of microsteps allows us to train AI precisely. The data practically makes decisions for us, and that’s extremely exciting.” Or Hubspot, which is known for its marketing automation technology, but also offers product and account specialists who help companies make the most of that software. In its words, “Companies are made up of people. And when those people have the right tools, they can turn their business dreams into reality.”
In the future, your job will likely be at least partially replaced by a machine, but you may still peacefully coexist with it, or even better, improve your performance by working together. Fortunately, there are a handful of strategies that can maximize your chances of succeeding in this new landscape.
Compensating for Weaknesses
First, understand what the weaknesses of automation are, and learn to compensate for them with your own offerings:
- The personal factor. Though there are already AI therapists and other machines created to mimic genuine human emotions, for the time being there’s no real substitute for a genuine, interpersonal experience. Learning to make the most of your interactive potential can make you a more valuable commodity in a world run by automation.
- Abstract reasoning and creativity. Machines are incredibly efficient at doing specific tasks that you program them to do, and their objective reasoning can’t be matched. But they’re not very good at abstract reasoning, or coming up with creative solutions. Hone those areas, and you’ll be preferable to any machine.
- Flexibility. AI algorithms may be able to self-improve and adapt over time, but they can’t be used for radically different applications in a short period of time. As a human, learn to value and improve your flexibility to make yourself more indispensable.
Improving Your Skills and Knowledge
New forms of technology have a tendency to push people into roles that demand higher levels of skill and experience, which those technologies generally have a harder time replicating. This is especially important in jobs that are unpredictable, or ones where automation hasn’t been a good fit in the past. The more highly trained and educated you are, the less replaceable you’ll be, and the more control you’ll have over the types of automation that are adopted and managed within your organization.
Broadening Your Experience
It also helps to broaden your experience; that is, instead of specializing in one area, consider gaining experience in each of several different areas. This makes you more flexible and adaptable than your AI counterparts, and more importantly, gives you more options for development if your current job is ever taken over by a machine. Expose yourself to multiple industries, and try to get experience with several different organizations.
Learning New Technologies
Finally, start learning as much as you can about the algorithms and programs that have the highest likelihood of threatening or moving into your job. If you can become an expert in a specific type of software, you’ll be the first choice to spearhead a new campaign to integrate that software into your organization. The better informed you are about technology, the more adeptly you’ll be able to integrate it into your own working style.
If you’re open to the idea of working with more algorithms and software platforms, if you’re committed to learning more about your high-tech environments, and you truly want to improve your overall performance, there’s no reason you can’t survive in a human-automation hybrid environment. There’s no guarantee this type of workforce will be the prevailing one (after all, 800 million jobs are projected to be lost to automation by 2030), but you will equip yourself with the skills and knowledge to maximize your chances of survival and success.