Monday, July 23, 2012

How to keep technology from taking your job

In highly industrialized regions of the world such as the North America and the EU, one of the byproducts of rapid innovations in the worlds of high technology and online communication is that more and more tasks that used to be done by people are being outsourced either to technology or to lower wage workers.

While the trend is most pronounced in wealthy industrialized countries, as the cost of computer and Internet-related technology continues to decline, the trend will inevitably make its way into any country that has relatively easy access and low cost access to the Internet.

For many kinds of work, the Internet has allowed employers access to a much wider pool of potential employees, often in countries that have much lower wage scales. While hairdressers and gardeners and other kinds of workers who have to be physically present to do the job may be safe from low cost long distance workers, engineers, accountants, doctors, and others who have skills that can be effectively outsourced will likely see much more competition from workers willing to accept lower wages.

When it comes to high technology, which can take various forms such as artificial intelligence, cloud storage, or remote databases, many jobs can have some or all of their functions done with fewer people, people who don't have to be at a particular location, or without using people at all.

For example, 20 years ago if a company used a common database to keep track of clients, vendors, transactions, payroll, and other information vital to the operation of the business, it was typically located in a computer or a set of file cabinets that were physically located in the office if it were a small business, or in one or more dedicated location for larger businesses. It also meant that one or more employees were needed to manage the file cabinets, computers, software, and other resources needed to keep the database up and running.

Today, businesses large and small can pay relatively small amounts of money to a vendor to have all of their databases needs managed remotely, often eliminating the need for many of those employees that they would have used in the past.

The future is not completely bleak for those whose current jobs may be at risk. There are some things that are difficult or even impossible to do with technology or with remote employees. Workers who have the following kinds of skills will likely have no trouble finding gainful employment (though they may have to be a remote employee):

  • Mathematical reasoning: While even the simplest computer can crunch the numbers far better than any human, it takes the kind of intuition that comes from experience to understand what questions can be asked, how to ask those questions, how to interpret the results, and how to communicate both the questions and the answers to an audience.
  • Solving open ended problems: These kinds of problems by their very nature can be quite difficult address since the first big challenge is often to understand what the problems or issues may be, as well as framing the problems in ways that can be understood. This is a set of skills that often require a subtle and extensive understanding of the context of the situation and the people who are involved.
  • Managing people: While technology may eliminate the need for most managers by eliminating the need for most employees, the reality is that so long as there are at least two people involved, at least one person has to be engaged in managing that relationship. So far, no computer has come close to being able to do that, and in some situations it may be best to have the manager located in the same place as the people being managed.
  • Writing and communicating: While algorithms can work wonders with basic communication, more complex interactions, by spoken or written word, are still beyond the technologies that will likely be available in the next several decades.
  • Sales and marketing: While technology often provides vital tools for much of the process, the sales and marketing process often needs skilled practitioners to persuade the customer or client to make a particular decision or take a particular action.
  • Anything involving intimate human contact: There are wide range of activities, from child rearing to nursing to live entertainment, where even if the technology existed to perform those tasks more effectively than humans, the customer would accept it. Sometimes it would not have to involve direct physical contact. For example, it is possible to fly aircraft remotely, or to even program an airplane to fly autonomously, but few passengers would willingly choose to fly in aircraft that didn't have a highly trained pilot at the controls. Oddly enough, that same passenger would likely have no problem riding an automated train between airport terminals.


Seattle said...

Technology allows me to grow my business faster and replacing myself is the goal. There is always a need for someone to manage the outsourcers.

Marketing Technologists
275 W Roy St #419
Seattle, WA 98119

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