Bank on skills the robots don’t have….

Tuesday 1st November 2016

In this issue of Money Truths….

  • The future will arrive sooner than you expect….
  • Our cognitive trump card has been played out….
  • Lets’ get emotional and psychological….
  • The human touch has value….
  • Can you code great leaders and creative thinkers?

The future will arrive sooner than you expect….

You cannot ignore or escape the rise of the robots….

Intelligent machines are part of our present experience (see last week’s column). And our entanglements with them will only increase.

As intelligent technology develops, more uses will be found for it – and more of us will be out of work as a result.

And that future will be here sooner than you expect….

A report released at the World Economic Forum says automation will lead to the loss of ‘over 5 million jobs in 15 major, developed and emerging economies by 2020….’

A Merrill Lynch report predicts 47% of jobs are at risk of non-human replacement inside 20 years….

University of Oxford research concludes that 35% of UK jobs are threatened by machines….

Our cognitive trump card has been played out….

We have encountered similar scenarios. The industrial revolution led to machines able to do jobs requiring strength and repetitive actions better, quicker and more cheaply than humans.

But those machines lacked cognitive abilities – and that ensured humans continued to have a role in the workplace.

This current scenario is different. Intelligent machines now exceed human potential in the cognitive field. They can process more information. They can do it quicker. They can perform cognitive tasks more effectively.

Cognitive skills no longer represent the trump card for humans in the game playing-out against machines in the workplace.

The machines have caught-up. They have a stronger cognitive hand now. In the future that hand will be stronger still.

In this environment who knows what subjects are best to study at university? Who can know which skills learned now will remain relevant 20 years down the line?

These are the challenges that children alive today will have to face – and overcome – if they are to prosper in the future world of work.

It’s a big ask because nobody knows for sure which skills will still be in demand or which jobs will be available for humans in 20 years-time. Things change quickly. Back in 1996 who would have believed in the existence of technological advancements we take for granted today?

Technology develops at such pace that what seemed impossible at breakfast yesterday is a reality tomorrow teatime. Most of us have no idea what will be possible this time next year – let alone 20 years hence.

It is in this climate of uncertainty that young people will make decisions about their education and the career path they intend to follow. It’s an unenviable task.

Let’s get emotional and psychological….

If you had to advise a young person on what skills will still be in demand in the workplace 20 years from now, what would you tell them?

I’ve been thinking about it and I find myself revisiting what happened during the industrial revolution….

When powerful machines were introduced to the workplace they displaced a lot of people. They did the work better and quicker. And they could work round the clock.

But humans didn’t disappear from the workforce. Humans were able to think, plan, and calculate. They were able to work on making the machines more efficient and productive. And they focused more on functions related to sales and growing the bottom-line.

Humans of that period found new kinds of work – work the machines weren’t capable of doing…. work based on cognitive power.

We already know that machines have bridged the cognitive gap and that humans no longer possess the cognitive edge. But human beings possess other skills and abilities that intelligent machines currently do not….

Emotional and psychological skills, for example….

Might they represent the equivalent of those cognitive skills back at the time of the industrial revolution? They are certainly skills that robots don’t possess and cannot easily replicate.

Jobs calling on those skills might be jobs with the potential to last deep into a machine-oriented future….

The human touch has value….

Take the field of teaching, for example….

Robots or automated software might prove effective in getting children to learn by rote. Or in performing routine demonstrations or experiments.

But does a robot possess the human touch required to manage the specific needs and educational development of an individual child?

Robots might be adept at teaching mathematics. But how will they manage in a group session focused on a problem that has no one correct answer – like the interpretation of a poem or a piece of art?

Are robots sufficiently nuanced to react to a class? Will they recognize when they have ‘lost’ their audience? Can they adapt ‘on the hoof’ and turn a spontaneous event in the classroom into a genuine learning opportunity?

A great teacher possesses a range of skills and a psychological make-up that a robot can’t compete with. Machines lack many of the key elements that make human beings human. As long as that’s the case, great teachers are going to be in demand.

Healthcare is another environment where the human touch will prove difficult to replicate with machines….

Sure, machines might shoulder some of the physical grunt work associated with healthcare. But what about bedside manner? That’s a much undervalued commodity until such time you need it and find it is unavailable?

Does a robot possess the empathy, kindness and warmth required to put a scared dental patient at ease?

Can it provide emotional reassurance to a patient ahead of major heart surgery?

Can you expect a robot to deal with a parent suffering from dementia with the same sensitivity you’d expect from a qualified dementia nurse?

And, even if you could, is that what people really want for their parents? For them to be ‘cared for’ by robots running on software packages written by whizz kid programmers out in Silicon Valley?

Robots don’t and can’t ‘care’. They can only go through the motions. And there are times, places and situations where that isn’t enough. Times, places and situations where what is needed is the human touch.

Can you code great leaders and creative thinkers?

And what about roles in the workplace that involve mentoring, motivating and getting the best out of individuals? Roles that require psychological finesse? Roles that require leadership?

In my career I’ve been fortunate enough to learn at the feet of some fantastic people.

People who were kind enough to share with me the fruits of their own individual experiences and hard-won knowledge.

People who took a genuine interest in my development both as a professional and as a person. People who helped make me who and what I am today….

I’m not sure a robot would or could have the same effect. What genuine experience can a robot pass on?  And what genuine interest could it have in me?

I would willingly stay at the office late on a Friday night to get a job done because I felt some loyalty to an individual human-being who had taken time to help me, who I respected and to whom I felt some personal connection.

But I can’t say I’d do the same for a robot – a machine that couldn’t possibly know or give a damn that in staying at the office I’d be sacrificing time I might otherwise spend with my family.

Robots can’t have relationships. You can’t connect with a robot. You can’t feel genuine loyalty towards it. Robots don’t make for good leaders.

And what about creative-thinking? Are robots going to be equipped – now or any time soon – to produce unique marketing campaigns?

Or to create new products and services that meet needs they don’t themselves experience or feel?

I can’t see robots replacing leaders and/or the people who make things happen in businesses any time soon.

Robots can perform functions. They can meet requirements. But we are still a long way away from them setting and driving the agenda. Human leadership and creativity has not been supplanted just yet.

Intelligent machines are on the rise. But they are not yet anywhere near qualified for jobs that require a genuine human touch.

Roles requiring the human touch are not the only types of jobs that will elude the robots. But I’d suggest they are one good place to start looking for long-term job security in a new world of automated intelligence.

That’s how it looks from here….

I’ll be back with more next Tuesday.

All the best,


Dave Gibson

Money Truths