The question is being posed almost constantly - how many jobs will be lost to robots, smart machines, artificial intelligence? What will be the fate of those people displaced by the relentless progress of technology?
It's natural for us as humans to speculate about these things. In our lifetimes, we have seen incredible change at ever increasing velocity. Look for instance, at the adoption rates of various technological developments over the years in the following diagram*:
As technology continues to advance exponentially, adoption seems to get faster. Essentially, we have been 'disrupted' since the beginning of time - industries disappear and are replaced by new ones. Will this current wave of technology driven change be the end for human workers? And why the continuing speculation about the 'harm' coming from current and near-term new technology?
In short, it comes down to the innate characteristics of humans that make them resistant to change. Humans seem to be pre-programmed to think of change as difficult - something that will take them out of their comfort zone or routine. The brain it seems can be quite lazy and get used to doing the same thing over and over again even if it may not be generating the best outcome for us. Involving the deep thinking part of the brain takes effort and energy - and it is inherently lazy - a concept argued by Daniel Kahneman in his book 'Thinking, Fast & Slow'.
So when a change confronts us, like that posed by the march of new technologies, the natural reaction is to resist and to point to all the negatives - such as robots taking over human jobs.
But it is my belief that the future will actually see humans and machines working alongside each other for better results than either could produce on their own. The technology bringing the massive amounts of data and incredible analytical capabilities and the human supplying the understanding, engagement, leadership and big-picture thinking.
A world where machines can do the tedious, dangerous and repetitive tasks and humans can focus on strategic direction, leadership and values would see better, more reliable business outcomes.
Technology itself shouldn't be something to fear - indeed, effort needs to be made to embrace it, and understand how it can make the organisation more effective and efficient. It will be those organisations that exchange technology for their people that may see short term cost savings but ultimately fail in the long term due to the loss of intellectual property and damage to team morale and engagement.
Understanding how to harness the power of your people and technology is where the smart organisations will be investing.
In my work with the Capability Institute, we work with organisations to understand how to best leverage your people to manage disruption, change, execution and transformation. Get in touch for an obligation free discussion on how we can help you.