Technology. Innovation. Automation. Computerization. Futurization. Artificial intelligence. Droids. And now, the People’s Choice Award: robot process automation.
Whatever you call this machinery, it’s been killing careers—from computer support specialists to cashiers—for a while.
AI has been building for years, but this time it’s different. Since the onset of COVID-19, AI has accelerated and transformed offices at an incredible rate. To face growing demands, closed offices, and tight budgets COVID-19 has led some companies to turn to robots. For other companies, the pandemic provides an excuse to implement AI strategies in the works for a while.
It’s predicted that robots will replace half of all American jobs in a decade.
Robots Climb the Corporate Ladder
According to Oxford Economic, industrial robots have doubled in the past two decades. They’re getting cheaper, more efficient, and more attractive to employers with budgets. The AI industry is estimated to grow over $190 billion by 2025, whereas back in 2018 it was a mere $21.46 billion, according to studies.
But wait, there’s more.
Robots are coming for more sophisticated jobs, like coding, finance, and accounting.
In fact, the idea that less-educated and lower-wage professionals may be more exposed to AI isn’t true. White-collar professionals (those with bachelor’s degrees) and production workers are the most likely to be exposed to AI.
Researchers, including those at Cambridge University, developed A.I. that can write code all by itself called Deep Coder. While the tool doesn’t ensure error-free code, it’s a lot faster than a human developer. Andrej Karpathy published a blog post arguing that in the near future, human developers won’t be needed anymore.
The Economist wrote an article outlining the quick rise of robots in the finance field. No one cares when Siri predicts the weather incorrectly (besides us Minnesotans, deciding whether or not to wear snow pants). On the other hand, predicting finance incorrectly brings higher stakes: impacting c-suite decisions, wealth redistribution, and the economy.
Curious about your particular job? Check out NPR’s Planet Money informative, definitive, and horrific guide to see how likely your job is to be replaced by robots. Or you could just watch The Matrix and fuel your anxieties about the future while being entertained.
What Can’t Robots Do?
If all this sounds too much like a plot of a Black Mirror episode, remember: robots may be right at home in the world of algorithms and jeopardy, but when they enter the nuanced world of human communication: they’re totally lost. In fact, their understanding of humor is so behind ours, it’s a punchline in itself.
Picture this. You ask Siri “What is Mario’s name in Mario Kart?” (we know, you’re asking for a friend). She stumbles on your request, “Marie’s last name is Kondo.”
You grumble out loud, “Siri, you’re a genius” and she earnestly and brightly responds “Aw, thanks.” You laugh with your friends (just kidding, those were echoes) because you’re funny, and because Siri is not.
Your displeasure was expressed through a tonal delivery of a compliment. The fact Siri can’t pick up on your inflection is a microcosm of a comforting fact about robots: they’re not funny, and they’re not human.
Will we ever have sarcastic or funny robots like the cheeky, sexy robot in Her or the cute, sassy R2-D2 in Star Wars? Probably not. Humor, particularly satire, is extremely complex (check out our TechCenter Video to see what we mean). In order to program or “teach” a robot something, humans have to understand the topic itself, and when it comes to humor, we’ve barely scratched the surface.
All that to say, your Siri isn’t going to become sassy, sentient, or employed anytime soon because she can’t replicate you.
How Do I Survive a Robot Takeover in 2021?
If you ask Siri to set your morning alarm and she responds, “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that” RUN. It’s too late.
To fortify yourself against robot competitors in the tech job market, a STEM degree or career is a great place to start. You should also sharpen your soft skills, like presenting and mediating, and maybe try stand-up (yeah, you’re right, maybe not).
It’s not likely robots will take over your job anytime soon, but it is much more likely you’ll be working alongside robots while they do the boring parts of your job, like data management and simple coding. Learning to live and work productively with these automated coworkers is more important than finding a new career that’s “robot-proof.” As Deloitte explains it, the future of the tech industry is a hybrid of robots and humans, creating “super job” teams combining human intelligence and robot capabilities to boost productivity.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
Tech Infinity and Beyond
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