By MICHAEL McQUEEN
Most of us operate under an assumption that the near future will be much like our recent lived experience.
This is natural perhaps. After all, we live in a world where 85% of the time, today’s weather is the same as yesterday’s.
Surely things aren’t going to change that much any time soon, are they?
While this tendency to underestimate change may be natural, there is one trend that none of us can afford to ignore ‒ the looming impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and wide-scale automation.
Perhaps the most thorough and widely reported research looking at the potential of automation-led job losses was conducted a few years ago by researchers at Oxford University.
These researchers analysed 700 different occupations and found that as many as 47% of total employment had a ‘high risk of computerisation’ by the early 2030s — more than 64 million jobs in the United States alone.
Make no doubt about it: millions of jobs and countless professions are set to disappear in the coming few decades.
The question is, which will they be, and how can you ensure you don’t find yourself in the firing line?
While service industries and white collar jobs have been less affected by automation throughout history, but this is beginning to change.
The ‘robo advisers’
Take the financial planning and advice business, for instance.
Traditionally a high-trust business, financial advice has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent years, leaving many clients asking whether human advisers and the fees they command are actually a necessary part of the wealth management process.
While advisers who are expert financial strategists with extraordinary people skills will remain in high demand for many years to come, advisers who are stuck in transaction mode will likely find their clients gravitating toward automated ‘robo advisers’.
These automated investment advice algorithms incorporate a client’s goals and risk profile to make intelligent wealth management recommendations at a fraction of the cost of a traditional adviser or funds manager.
In the related field of accounting, similar moves towards automation have been underway for some time now.
Automated bank feeds and cloud-based accounting software have all but removed the need for bookkeepers ‒ and accountants themselves could be next in the firing line.
For instance, KPMG recently announced a goal of having 30% of client audits completed by robots within a few short years.
That’s the bread-and-butter work of a lot of accountants instantly disappearing.
Like financial advisers, smart accountants will recognise automation technology for the opportunity that it is and adjust their value proposition accordingly.
The days of simply managing the compliance, financial administration and lodgment requirements of clients will soon be long gone.
As one of the more visionary accountants I have worked with once said: “Accountants need to shift from seeing themselves as the score keeper at the end of the game (or financial year) to being the coach on the side-lines offering advice and support throughout the game.”
I love this metaphor and he is so right.
The 4 critical skills
The impending age of automation doesn’t mean that professional services roles will disappear. It means they will need to morph and adapt.
Of all the skills and capabilities required to remain relevant in an automated age, four will be of critical importance:
The elements of creativity that rely on our ability to synthesise unrelated ideas and construct something new or unexpected will remain a uniquely human skill for a long time yet.
Added to this, our ability to craft humour, employ irony and explore the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of life will not be replicated by a machine any time soon.
After all, machines do not have a soul and it is the soul of a human out of which true creativity springs forth.
The value of our gut feeling, as humans, is hard to overstate.
Machines are always dependent on the code they have been given or the data they are fed — neither of which allow for the very human instincts that are so critical when operating in a complex, uncertain and unpredictable world.
As Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee point out, computers are extraordinarily good at pattern recognition within their frames — but their skills advantage evaporates the moment they need to operate outside of these frames.
Put simply, one of our key advantages as humans is our ability to employ multiple senses, which gives us a much broader scope for perceiving the world around us than any computer can achieve.
Beyond our ability to create, intuit and perceive, it is our uniquely human capacity to care, empathise and connect emotionally that is perhaps our greatest and most enduring advantage over robots.
Again, the soulless nature of machines will always mean their interactions with us will be cold and calculated, no matter how lifelike the technology becomes.
In the same way that the Luddites resisted the destruction of their livelihoods by industrialisation, we will likely see scores of individuals and industries rail against the growing influence of AI.
However, automation can either be an opportunity or a threat depending on whether you embrace it or not. In the words of the technologist Tim O’Reilly, “We must not fall into the trap of trying to protect the past from the future.”