Automation is a force that is continuously changing the nature of human work. First it replaced brute force with powerful machines, changing the nature of agriculture, mining, construction, and other fields of human activity. Then automated programs replaced simple work like withdrawing money from a bank account. Now automation is replacing complicated work, like coordinating drivers and passengers within a community, in real time. Any process that can be mapped, analyzed, and understood will be automated. As networked computers and the algorithms behind them become more powerful, even more complicated work will get automated. One banking industry analyst expects 30% of banking jobs disappearing in the next few years due to automation.
“Everything that happens with artificial intelligence, robotics and natural language — all of that is going to make processes easier,” said Pandit, who was Citigroup’s chief executive officer from 2007 to 2012. “It’s going to change the back office.” —Bloomberg, 2017-09-13
Any human work that is complicated by nature will be automated by machines or code. This work has traditionally been seen as the core of labour, and is still the basis of many jobs today. People prepare to do this work by getting trained for it in advance. There are required competencies that have already been mapped by Human Resource experts.
But the jobs of tomorrow will not be based on competencies best suited for machines. Work that is continuously changing cannot be replicated by machines or code. Unique customized work is in ‘perpetual beta’. New operating models, often ‘just good enough’, are developed, used, modified, and even discarded as the nature of the work changes. This is work that cannot be prepared for in advance. Instead of formal training, people will need to learn while working with others. They will have to be continuously learning, socially and informally. It will be the only way to stay ahead of the machines. In addition, people will have to understand how the machines and algorithms work, to ensure proper human oversight. Some human work of today, and more work tomorrow, will be based on these human competencies ill-suited for machines.
I will be discussing this changing nature of work at a Canadian bank next week and will be interested in how they see the future of work. After twenty years of looking at the technological, demographic, and societal changes facing us, I have little doubt that the future of (valued) work is perpetual beta: constant change while still getting things done.