Professionals and Managers: You’re Next

Automation may replace skilled workers sooner than you expect.

Here’s the dirty little secret about automation: it’s easier to build a robot to replace a junior attorney than to replace a journeyman electrician. And that fact helps explain why economists and politicians are feeling misgivings about “creative destruction,” which, up to now, they have usually embraced as a net good for society. Technology and automation, they’ve argued—correctly—boost productivity and create more jobs overall (even as some kinds of work get eradicated).

In the age of the algorithm, though, they’re not so sure any more, and no wonder…

Related… Does physical labor have a future?

Those who would never stoop to paint their own houses gladly expend far more energy sweating at the gym. During the decline in physical-labor jobs over the last 50 years, an entire compensating industry has grown up around physical fitness. As modern work becomes less physical, requiring hours at a desk or some sort of immobile standing, the fitness center has replaced the drudgery of the field, the mine, and the forest as a means to exercise the body each day.

  • Hard Little Machine

    Yes a huge swath of white collar and pink collar jobs cab be done by machines. Even how Legal Zoom and related firms have put lawyers and paralegals out of work because so much of the law is rote paperwork. Stationary stores that specialized in legal forms used to make a gold mine out of each one they sold. In the medical field, radiologists have already disappeared from the US since all you need is a pair of eyes and a broadband connection to India or China. Insurance underwriters are the poster child for automation in the insurance field just like claims processing replaced all people in the 1980’s.

    There are already phone apps that can do food inspection which can replace health inspectors. Drones and software can replace surveyors. Dialysis clinics don’t need people unless it’s to backup the function of the machines that do the work now. British Airways says they can replace pilots in 5 years. The Israeli navy has autonomous armed coastal patrol craft.

    In the corporate space, most middle managers’ roles revolve around gathering data, presenting data and reporting ‘status’. All of that can be done with machines. Soon a Fortune 500 company will replace its CEO and Board of Directors with AI – as soon as they can work out the legal issues of that.

    Google is experimenting today with AI to create whole news stories for smaller local and regional newspapers.

    It’s going to get really dark and really ugly for all the ‘knowledge workers’ when they learn that their ‘knowledge’ is worthless. It’s reminiscent of a time before most of you, in the 1970’s when Wall St brokerages were legally barred from fee collusion and bundling. Some of the firms said publicly “It’s ok, customers will pay us for our research and recommendations”. Turns out their research and recommendations had a market value of zero. Zero. Trading itself has largely cut out the human element because it adds no value.

    Just wait till ‘media’ millionaires are tossed out on their asses. When the Brian Stelters of the world will be replaced overnight with a hologram and a personality module. Their bosses will throw them out like dirty diapers.

    Do you know what the single largest obstacle to all of this coming to pass is? Transition costs. The cost of capital to create and install it and the cost of getting rid of people, their HR costs and so forth. But those are time-driven. All of those costs can be winnowed out the same way that companies like IBM quietly layoff thousands of people every year in small chunks in disparate locations so no one notices.

    The age of the middle manager is closing.

  • Dana Garcia

    So we won’t need any more imported workers then. . .

  • Bless his heart

    Recall the buildings being sprayed in one quick action on the Jetson’s.
    George Jetson had a brutal job pushing that button.