What will we do when the machines take over?
BY DECLAN HANNIGAN
I was chatting backstage at a conference I was hosting when an expert speaker casually mentioned that machine learning will make Shared Services Centres (SSCs) obsolete in about 3 years. My first thought, that really sucks for them. My second thought, that really sucks for ME! My day job is a Communications Trainer and my major clients, you guessed it, SSCs.
You might not have noticed it but we are in the middle of the 4th industrial revolution, which means, basically, that the communications device in your pocket is making you part machine. This, coupled with big data and ever faster computers, is driving this change. 50,000 people work in SSCs in Hungary. Even if 3 years becomes 5 years, we are looking at a tidal shift in employment. The thing is, I’m a technology fan, in fact I graduated with a science degree, so I decided to take a deeper look.
A machine can be anything from a robot in your factory to an algorithm running on a server far away. A 2013 report from Oxford University on the future of employment and automation estimates what kind of work is most likely to be shifted from human to machine. The result imagines the emptying out of middle income, middle class jobs that make up our society.
So now what?
A World Economic Forum report estimates that hard skills will become increasingly less valuable. What is our value then? They say it lies in creativity, flexibility, solving problems not easily described, social skills and team work. These are the things that make us human: making mistakes, finding the value in the accidents, and playing, which is another way of being creative. Machines don’t do these things.
If you look closely enough you can still find the humans behind the machines, doing the work that we love to do, that we are still better at doing. Machines can build amazing 3D animated characters but behind the animation there are still actors rolling around with dots on their face. Behind AI art there is a human curator.
The truth is that our world is changing but I am no longer worried. ‘Soft skills,’ is such a derogatory term but soon they will be described as essential skills. The skills that Applied Improvisation can help people achieve are exactly what we will need. I’m optimistic about the 4th Industrial revolution. The other 3 took us into factories and then offices. The fourth could set us free to be human again.