The Rise of the Machines……
There has been a huge amount of myth circulating about the future of work and the unstoppable march towards wide scale job loss through automation and AI. The "Rise of the Machine" conspiracies are the subject of a new TV drama or movie every week. Various labour and innovation reports indicate that we expect to see large percentages of today’s jobs disappear over the next 20 years. Most people currently in full time education can expect to be doing jobs that have not yet been invented, so obviously the job market will change. The most extreme statistics I’ve seen came came from a report, authored by the Institute for the Future (IFTF), stating that 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. And every year for the last few years, we’ve see US labour market analysis indicating that 50% of total US employment is at imminent risk from automation.
Despite these reports, the reality is likely to differ from the theory. Even in the over hyped sector that is autonomous vehicles, these vehicles will not replace delivery drivers. Getting a vehicle from A to B is only part of the job of the driver. But this is a great example of what the future will look like very soon. Augmentation of the role of a human through the effective use of technology.
Most of what’s hyped as AI is not really truly intelligent. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is on it’s way, but valuations for “AI” start ups is resulting in every software company describing their products as “the first AI in…”. There’s not much AI research focusing on passing the Turing Test, but developing some form of AI that could convince an evaluation of a machine that is in fact human is some way off from mainstream deployment. Machine Learning (ML) is fairly mainstream right now where enough data exists. But using machines to learn and automate repetitive tasks is not without problems. This article, about Amazon scraping secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women, is an interesting take on the key challenges that have still not been solved by ML solutions. As the Amazon example shows, these solutions don’t always remove bias. The data and outcomes these systems learn from can simply automate that bias.
If your role can be automated, parts of it may already have been. Investment is heavy right now not in just in automating blue collar jobs, but in white collar sectors. There’s more money in building services that can automate high cost jobs. So we watch with interest whether most industries will see Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a threat, opportunity, or distraction!
Most commentators in the market point to the fact that the one thing that automation struggles with is complex problem solving involving uncertainty. And one thing we can all agree on is that in the recruiting sector, at times Candidates and Hiring Teams create enough uncertainty to pose challenges with the automation of recruiting.
Recruitment businesses who simply sift applications and provide a largely administrative service, there really is not much uncertainty or complexity in that service to protect them from automation. In these markets there could be a race to the bottom going on, where the only differentiation is price. This approach to simply occupying a replaceable role in the supply chain does not place you at immediate risk of being replaced by technology, but these businesses will be first to fall victim in the rise of the machines. For the rest of the sector, as these types of service providers try to push themselves up the value chain, the risk is the market share of mid-market vendors will be eroded by "cheap" solutions. There are opportunities to look for technology to help protect you from this threat. Technology is great at amplifying what we are already good at, so amongst other things I'll talk about the field of Human Computer Partnership in Part 2 of this blog later.