They keep telling us that the robots are coming for our jobs. Wired reported that “it doesn’t matter what you do for work: By 2025 your job – as it exists today – will not be the same.” But, all is not bleak. With changes come opportunities, and developing our understanding today can give us an advantage tomorrow.
Tom Mitchell of Carnegie Mellon University is an important thinker in this space. He defines jobs as bundles of tasks. For example, a doctor’s office checks the patient in, reviews their insurance, gets them to a room, checks their vitals, listens to their concerns, performs tests, analyzes the results, discusses the treatment options (if any), schedules follow-ups, etc. To understand how a job will change we have to ask how the bundles of tasks will change. Each step in this example can represent a bundle. Some will be easier (and better) to turn over to a robot than others.
Once we’ve automated what can be automated, we’re left with some new problems. Does the doctor see more patients? Spend more time with the same amount of patients? Charge less for their services because of cost savings? These are the types of questions we need to be thinking about today. If we’re reducing our cost, do we want to gather more clients to preserve profits? If we have more time, should we increase our contact frequency? If we have lower expenses, do we reinvest the differential elsewhere? How will we re-bundle the non-automatable tasks in the name of value creation?
For any professional service, it also helps to remember we’ll be making these changes in a competitive market. The most sought after services are likely to see tech enable higher touch, higher personalization, and potentially higher premiums. As technology raises the floor on what anybody can do, we need to spend extra time thinking about what only we can do. If the robot advantage is in things that can be scaled, the human advantage is in things that can’t be scaled. Personal contact. Communication. Empathy. We need to direct our practices and our skills to have an advantage in these categories. The robots aren’t coming for everything just yet.