Every time I shop at my local Woolworths, I join the self-service checkout queue to pay for my shopping.
I don't need or want any social interaction (‘How's your day?') when I shop. I am happy to scan and pack my own shopping.
When I do this, I am indirectly undermining a cashier's job at Woolworths. A self-service machine can work for hours (days?) without a break and doesn't require sick leave, annual or overtime. One staff member supervises five self-serve machines at my Woolies.
Self-serve options in major stores are a relatively new addition to the artificial intelligence that underpins the reduced requirement for human beings to facilitate work tasks.
Amazon has a business model built upon among other things, artificial intelligence (people who purchased X also purchased......). I've been a very satisfied Amazon customer for about seven years and I've never had an interaction with a single person at Amazon.
As a species, we almost immediately take our ‘new reality' for granted as we rapidly move away from interacting with our fellow humans. How many times have you physically visited a bank in the past five years? Do you frequently marvel at the ease of paying bills and transacting online compared to the way our parents paid bills and undertook their banking? I doubt it. It's completely normal now.
My local DVD store shut down the week before Netflix announced they were going to be open for business in Australia in March next year
In about two years time the experience of interacting with another human to rent a movie, a TV series or a documentary will be a quaint memory for ninety per cent of Australians.
All of the experiences above will be common to almost every person reading this blog, yet I'm sure the reaction to the headline commonly seen last week Up to 500,000 jobs threatened by rise of robots, artificial intelligence: report was, for the same readers, one of faint alarm.
The report referenced by this (and other similar) headline(s) was the release of the inaugural Australian Industry Report 2014 published by the Department of Industry, Office of the Chief Economist (the role is currently held by Mark Cully). The report looks at a range of economic forces that will drive the need for structural changes in various aspects of the Australian economy over the medium term.
As the AFR reported:
‘... the report finds that occupations most at risk of computerisation are those that involve routine tasks, such as bank tellers, clerks, bookkeepers and even highly qualified roles such as pharmacists - 78.6 per cent of whom have at least a bachelor's degree.
"A tertiary education, therefore, does not guarantee a safeguard against automation," Mr Cully said in the report.
A widely-quoted Oxford Martin School study published last year estimated that about 47 per cent of all US jobs are at risk of computerisation, many of them in sectors needing high-level skills, wages and education.
By contrast, Mr Cully said some of the safest jobs were those that did not require advanced education - including truck drivers, electricians and waiters.
Asked what jobs young Australians should train for, Mr Cully said it was more important to get good schooling - whether through an apprenticeship or university - than target any particular sector. "We don't know what the future holds," he said in an interview on Tuesday. (my bold)
Mr Cully is absolutely right, in my opinion. The market for jobs is changing so rapidly that the importance of a very sound foundation education is very important. As the report articulates, the current high salaries for various jobs are not any guarantee that these jobs won't be computerised out of existence. In fact, high salaries create a greater incentive to find a computerised solution that is cheaper, faster and more reliable. As an example, driverless trucks have recently been introduced into West Australian mines to replace expensive employees.
I would also add something else, not remarked upon my Mr Cully (or if he did say anything of this nature, it wasn't reported), and that's the importance of making a habit of life-long learning, especially outside any traditional place of formal learning.
The importance of self-directed and/or self-initiated learning via reading, coaching, mentoring, short courses etc has never been more important.
The core competency of the future (you could argue that future is already here) is the ability to learn, and unlearn just as quickly.
Your career almost certainly depends upon it, otherwise your job is at serious risk from a Dalek.
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