The Future of Work Part 3: The Case For Humans (and how to beat the machines)

Stuart Ridley

Stuart Ridley

Content Editor

May 12, 2016

The Future of Work Part 3: The Case For Humans (and how to beat the machines)

Stuart Ridley, Content Editor
May 12, 2016

First up, some great news from some business analysts: researchers at global business strategy firm McKinsey recently stated that fewer than 5 per cent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology.

They did note that roughly 60% of jobs could soon have nearly a third of their core tasks automated, though they put a (mostly) positive spin on it:

“Mortgage-loan officers will spend much less time inspecting and processing rote paperwork and more time reviewing exceptions, which will allow them to process more loans and spend more time advising clients. Similarly, in a world where the diagnosis of many health issues could be effectively automated, an emergency room could combine triage and diagnosis and leave doctors to focus on the most acute or unusual cases while improving accuracy for the most common issues.”

Human skills can be taught more easily to other humans

Two academics at Oxford University, Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, recently developed a system for calculating how much of a job is suitable for automation, with an interesting focus on some very human skills to swing things in our favour:

  1. Assisting and caring for others
  2. Fine arts
  3. Finger dexterity
  4. Manual dexterity
  5. Needing to work in a cramped work space (a bit of a curveball this one)
  6. Negotiation
  7. Originality
  8. Persuasion
  9. Social perceptiveness

Machines can’t have moments of brilliance or improvise

Very few people enjoy dealing with automated ‘self-help’ customer service bots in any industry, and in the face of complex challenges computers are incapable of intuition or bursts of brilliance that deliver a creative solution.

As tech and culture author Nicholas Carr explained in a recent essay for the New York Times:

“Pilots, physicians and other professionals routinely navigate unexpected dangers with great aplomb but little credit. Even in our daily routines, we perform feats of perception and skill that lie beyond the capacity of the sharpest computers… Computers are wonderful at following instructions, but they’re terrible at improvisation. Their talents end at the limits of their programming.”

Being present for other humans can be incredibly important

Computers are meant to be logical and accurate. Or even objective. But they can only pretend to be there for us.

If you read the fine print of a recent CSIRO report on the future workforce you’d discover the happy news that: “service sector jobs requiring social interaction skills and emotional intelligence will become increasingly important”.

As the CSIRO report also noted, employment growth in education and healthcare has driven recent overall job creation and is likely to continue as Australia moves to a knowledge economy.

Every person who deals with customers in person (whether face to face, on the phone or online) is likely self-aware about how their attitude and attention can influence an interaction.

Similarly, people who make a living being creative know how much their mood and focus can influence the appeal of their work.

Sure, there are plenty of machines that can mix up all manner of cocktails with precision or even learn the stock-in-trade skills of a barista, but they can’t charm you while doing it. Or solve a life puzzle for you. Or say something that will make your day.

Automation should free up humans so they can focus on higher-value work.

Work that has a higher value might be more complex to execute and demand different ways of thinking. So it makes sense to get smart technologies to do some of your work for you.

Better yet, if you can streamline several routine tasks by automating them with compatible technologies, you should have even more time to think creatively; to relate; to go the extra mile for your fellow human beings.

And yes, more time to positively surprise your fellow human beings with brilliant ideas and experiences.


> Find out which jobs are being automated in ‘The future of work part 1: Will robots steal your job?’

> Discover the upside of putting machines to work in ‘The future of work part 2: What’s the point of automation?’

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Stuart Ridley
Stuart helps edit the Deputy blog, inspiring and leading the team in creating innovative content for our readers.

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