I recently read The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and what was going to be a review of their book has turned into a blog posting on how I am continually observing their predictions come true.
While the use of technology to replace human workers is understood and has been with us since the industrial revolution, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that pace that technology is advancing is unprecedented. Growing exponentially, it is radically transforming the world, faster than most people, including technologists, think.
Additionally they argue that the range of jobs that will be eliminated or significantly impacted by technology is wide, from truck drivers to medical doctors. Today’s technology is replacing humans in positions thought to be so complex (either mentally or physically) that these jobs were protected from technology or at least had a long term lifespan before technology would catch up.
The speed and scope of these changes is not yet understood.
Deloitte published a 2014 report that stated 35% of all human jobs in the United Kingdom are at risk of being replaced by technology within next ten to twenty years. In the United States 47% are at risk according to a 2013 report published by University of Oxford.
Without looking for them, but with an open eye since reading The Second Machine Age, I am regularly coming across examples of technology replacing (or preparing to replace) humans in unexpected ways. Here are a few:
Replacing Teams of Attorneys: Volcker Assistant
Several hundred pages of small type in the Federal Registry that is changing on a regular basis with severe consequence for financial firms. Teams of attorneys and support staff are hired to keep pace with the changes. No more. The Volcker Assistant, brainchild of lawyer Don Lamson is to the Volcker Rule what TurboTax is to paying taxes. You can hear about it here on MarketPlace Tech.
Voice Talent: Taco Bell advertising: doing it on the cheap
Using low cost text to voice technology Taco Bell produced a radio ad at, what they claim to be a cost of $1. While I doubt the cost was that low, I am sure the use of lower grade technology here was employed for comic effect. Once higher end technology is available this low cost alternative will be used over voice actors. You can read about Taco Bell’s ad on the RadioAirtimeMedia blog.
Replacing Financial Advisors: Robo Advisors
Robo Advisors, providing financial advice, guidance and actual transactions are still in their infancy. While we are not sure if they will become wholesale replacements for Financial Advisors or sophisticated tools to augment them, one thing I am sure of is that a lot more will be done with less. This could reduce the need for the total number of advisors or move the human advisor to a niche market. You can read about robo advisors on CNBC.
Replacing Developing and Third World Factory Workers: Grabit Inc.
All of those industrial factory jobs we in the USA thought were lost to the developing and third world, we didn’t lose them. They just are taking a break from our shores and will be back. The challenge is, when they come back, machines will get the jobs, not humans. Companies like Grabit Inc. are improving the factory landscape and eliminating human jobs in the process. In Grabit’s case they are using electroadhesion technology that, amongst other things, will allow for picking up flat objects (e.g. glass, cloth) without the use of expensive gripper technology or nimble human hands. You can visit the Grabit site or hear a very brief interview with them on MarketPlace Tech.
Replacing Quality Control Staff and Food Inspectors: Thailand’s Robotic Taster
Developed by the Thai government-funded Thai Delicious Committee, this technology scans food samples for specific chemical signatures. It can tell the difference between real Thai ingredients and imitations. This could impact the numbers of quality control staff needed at industrial food processing facilities as well as FDA inspectors checking on imports of food into the United States. However this later group, to my understanding, is overtaxed as is. Hopefully this type of technology will place their slim numbers in line with the volume of work they need to do. You can read more about this technology on the Discovery website.
Replacing Retail Customer Service/Sales Floor Reps: Lowes Robot Customer Service Rep
Pretty close to some of the lower functioning droids you see in Star Wars these robot not only have multilingual voice recognition system in place to assist you they also visually scan any hardware part you have in hand and compare that against a database. Once the robot knows what you want, it leads you to the location in the store for you to make your selection off the shelf. While I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg on this technology you can just use your imagination as to what can be added onto this machine. This will take in store CRM to many new levels. Great article in The E-Commerce Times which also includes this great video on YouTube.