As humans, we should not fear to lose our jobs to robots or automation in itself. Instead, we should embrace it as an extra tool to make our jobs easier and allow us to make more use of our own intelligence, empathy, and creativity. Easier said than done, I agree. But times are changing and we need to focus on what we’re good at as people, rather than focusing on what might take over our current jobs. The future will provide us with different types of new jobs, some of which we can’t even predict right now. Maybe you’ll work full-time with Augmented Reality or spend half your workweek in a Virtual Reality environment. Don’t fear it, embrace it.
Is anyone still a Lamplighter?
What in the world is a Lamplighter, you might wonder? Exactly! Let me explain:
“A Lamplighter is a person employed to light and maintains candle, or later, gas street lights”
In other words: people were literally employed to light our streetlights…..by hand….day in, day out. Let that sink in for a second. I can tell you how many people still practice that profession: zero! Why? That job has been replaced by the electricity that we use in our streetlights. Everything they were needed for and were an expert in has been replaced by automation, quite literally as streetlights are now lit using pre-programmed settings that determine when they will simultaneously switch on, based on the time of day and seasons we’re in.
This doesn’t mean that the people who used to be a Lamplighter would disappear from the face of the earth. It means that the process of lighting the streetlights had been automated, so the people in those jobs needed to find something that still required their expertise, but in a different form or field. Maybe they could focus more on maintaining the streetlights as cities would expand and more lights would be required, hence the need for maintenance and replacement would grow. They would now be doing a job that previously did not exist in such a form.
New technology eats old jobs
When times change, the tools and techniques we use change as well. Like in the example of a lamplighter: when the gaslights disappear, so does our need for a person to light them. It’s a natural cause and effect or supply and demand if you will. For recent examples, take a look at Amazon’s brick and mortar store without a single cashier. As a matter of fact, the entire store is lacking cash registers altogether. They have made a smart system that is actually better at scanning and receiving payment than we humans are. Why? Because it’s a task or job that doesn’t require our strongest human skills, such as creativity. Looking at it from an efficiency side, it’s a mathematical task. Recognizing the product, checking the price and then asking for — and receiving — the correct amount of money.
Sure, a cashier can give you a friendly smile that a computer could never give you the same way, but our society is asking for quicker service and companies are seeking efficiency everywhere. So yes, that might mean that a part (or all of it eventually) of this job will be taken over by a system that out-performs us. And that’s exactly what this article is all about: performance and need. Systems, automation, and AI can only replace tasks and especially tasks that, to us, are redundant and repetitive work that doesn’t require out human traits: creativity, empathy, sense of humor and so on. Many odd jobs have already disappeared because there was no longer a need for that type of work or expertise. Either the work had gone outdated or it was taken over by more efficient automation. The good news: we as people are still needed, we just need to evolve as well.
“This doesn’t mean that the people who used to be a Lamplighter would disappear from the face of the earth. It means that the process of lighting the streetlights had been automated, so the people in those jobs needed to find something that still required their expertise, but in a different form or field.”
New technology creates new jobs
So, let’s just stick with the store that “replaced” the job of the cashier for now. We shouldn’t look at it in a sense of replacement, but much rather as a form of opportunity. What’s the reason people go to stores in the first place? I guarantee it’s not because people love using “self check-outs” and doing groceries systematically. It’s a small social event. It’s a means of being surrounded by people and feeling part of the group we as humans form. It’s the experience of being out and about. So rather than replacing cashiers with self-check-out systems and automation, we should grab this opportunity to strengthen the true reason people visit stores: enhance the experience.
You see, if we actually grab the opportunity, we should not let the cashiers go. We should use their human traits to enhance that experience. A former cashier might be a great supermarket host, greeting visitors, showing them around or helping them if they have trouble using the self-check-out. They could be the listening ear to a lonely elderly lady who does her groceries daily to fight her loneliness by being surrounded by people. New technology DOES replace certain types of jobs, for sure. But we should grab the opportunity to let the machines do the work we as humans are inferior at in terms of speed and efficiency. Let technology create time and opportunity to enhance the experience.
Opportunity versus threat
“The robots are coming for us” is a very cool header, it’s also very untrue. If you change it into “The robots are coming to help us” it’s already much more realistic. Robots (AI especially) is what we make it out to be. We determine what it means because we are the sole creator of both the term as well as the physical product. We will not get an invasion of human look-a-likes who talk like R2D2 and are after your job, your home and will drive your car unwillingly. Consider it a tool that will give you the opportunity to use your human brain more and more on a daily basis.
A lot of our jobs and habits are from the previous revolution, the third industrial revolution to be precise. Our school systems teach us how to work in 8-hour shifts, obey the rules and whatever you do: please don’t be creative. Now, with the new era or fourth industrial revolution already happening, we can let automation and AI do the “industrial revolution” type of work so we can finally create time to be us. In many cases, we can’t use our full potential, because we still have:
– A ton of e-mail of receive and send back and forth
– Tens of reports to manufacturing from different types of sheets
– to spend 8 hours a day sending quotations without a follow-up, because we’re too busy to make that human interaction.
Let’s look at AI and automation as colleagues that take over some of our tasks in which they are faster, cheaper and can work at non-stop. Then let’s look at ourselves as unique beings that finally get some time and a chance to use our human brain to build relationships and humanize the workplace. We can pitch more ideas, talk to more customers and create the things which you envision when you first said yes to that job. And don’t worry if you’re job completely disappears, you will be needed and welcome and many other places that look for the actual skills that you own.