Facing the Reality of Robot Co-Workers

ThinkstockPhotos-599686170There’s a sense of unease among workers these days. Word on the street is that robots will be taking over jobs, and that threat feels like it could be real. In their everyday lives, people are starting to see the potential of technology. With the number of Alexa skills growing like crazy, how long until those skills are sophisticated enough to handle a job that a human used to do?

There’s no doubt that automation, AI and chatbots are building capabilities at an incredible pace and achieving things that were in the realm of sci-fi just a few years ago. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine many current jobs that could soon be performed by technology. But it’s also worth considering some factors that might shape a future not completely dominated by robot overlords.

To start, unease over the state of jobs is nothing new. CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2017 discussed the use of advanced technology in the workplace as another step in the long history of the blended workforce. For years, temporary workers and contractors have supplemented permanent full-time employees. Companies have also explored relocation of jobs to lower-cost geographies. Yet for all the shuffling and all the experiments, businesses have maintained a multifaceted labor pool, adding different components to a core group of full-timers to create the right mix.

We’ve also seen disruptive new technology before. The Industrial Revolution is the common example here, and while it’s important to remember the amount of upheaval that took place in that transition, the bottom line is that predicting the impact of technology on jobs is nearly impossible. For example, the textile industry boomed even in the face of automation as demand skyrocketed. We see similar trends with computing technology, such as the rising number of bank tellers during the time that ATMs became ubiquitous. In a vacuum, technology can replace certain functions. The economy is not a vacuum, though, and businesses constantly change job functions in response to market forces.

Finally, the discomfort over job prospects is not the only thing growing with regard to technology. Technology broadly continues to follow Moore’s law, and overall capabilities are starting to exceed the grasp of the general public. While people enjoy the convenience and benefits of a connected world and powerful devices, there is a gap between appreciating concepts and accepting real-world applications. As the world becomes more digital, people may value—and pay a premium for—a human touch.

The challenge for job-seekers is no different than it has ever been: build a skill-set that makes you indispensable. However, the level of skill needed is steadily rising. As every company becomes a digital organization, employees of all types must be familiar with basic IT principles. Powerful technology will help drive business outcomes, and the most likely scenario is skilled employees working alongside that technology to produce novel results. As Ray Wang of Constellation Research suggests, the worker of the future will be a digital artisan, expertly blending both technology and humanity.

Learn more about the rise of AI and the future of all IT in our IT Outlook 2017 report.