We live in a world where a lot of physical and mental work can be done by computers. Much of the thinking done at Wall Street is now done by computer programs and computer programs are learning how to drive as well as how to clean. Automated work and automated thought have come a long way since IBM’s Deep Blue beat one of the world’s greatest chess players in 1997. In fact, vlogger CGP Grey predicts that if we do not start taking automated work seriously, then we may find ourselves living in a future where humans are not unemployed but “unemployable.”
Yet automated work need not be a bad thing. The fact that machines can do some work for us leaves us free to pursue other goals: in our businesses, in our personal lives, and in the development of a better society. Rather than taking jobs from people, the development of technology and automated work has created jobs for businesses. The only problem is that our workforce is not trained enough to do these jobs. This is known as the digital skill gap and, in the UK, it means that there are 750,000 vacant roles with nobody trained enough to take them on. In the US, the digital skills gap costs the economy an estimated 1.3 trillion dollars a year.
Automated mental labour and automatic business intelligence
The development of automated labour means that your business needs to evolve or die. In the case of mental labour, the best way for your business to evolve is through training. Take a long hard look at all of the mental labour your business does on a day to day basis, see what can be done by automation, and then figure out what you will do with the human labour now at your disposal. To take one example, computer programs can now automatically track your competitors and gather all the relevant business intelligence faster than any of your human staff could – no matter how well trained they are.
Your job, as an employer, is to train your staff in how to use this software and how to react to the information that your computer can generate. In other words, your staff need to be better at making faster decisions because your computers will be providing them with all the information needed to make decisions at a faster rate. This is probably why business journalist Ken Sundheim believes in employees who can make quick and self-assured choices and why Facebook’s old working motto was “move fast and break things.”
Automated physical labour and the future
The fact that computers can do so much physical labour may well mean the end of many jobs, but it also means the beginning of many others. In light of this, businesses need more training and higher expectations. Product rollout – from design, to manufacture, to marketing – needs to be faster than before and, for this to happen, you need more human minds. This is why multinational giant Nike are not reducing the amount of human labour they employ. Rather, they are increasing it from 34,000 in 2009 to 64,000 in 2015.
One of the basic rules of economics is that higher productivity leads to growth. Yet simply allowing computers to take jobs from people will not increase productivity. For automated work to be a good thing, all businesses need to be embracing the capabilities of computers and developing human skills at the same time.
About the Author Richard Jackson is a business writer and software expert. As the founder of Watch My Competitor, he has created software that automatically tracks the web activity of his client’s rivals to provide them with 24/7 competitor intelligence