The Robots Are Coming ΓÇô Are They After Your Job?
TheyΓÇÖre always on time, never take a sick day and never ever complain. On the face of it, robots are the perfect office worker ΓÇô and technology is making them an increasingly viable option. We explore the rise of the robots and what it means for your job.
Imagine turning up to the office tomorrow morning to meet your new co-worker: Annie the Android. So far, so novel ΓÇô but twelve months down the line and your team is facing cuts. SomeoneΓÇÖs got to go. With her perfect attendance record and zero salary requirements, you know itΓÇÖs not going to be Annie.
It might sound like the plot of an exceptionally dull sci-fi film but, according to a recent study, itΓÇÖs a reality many office workers could be facing over the next couple of decades.
Could the robots replace you?
In their study of the US workforce, Carl Bendikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of Oxford University have identified 702 core occupation types, 47% of which they say are at risk of being replaced by robots.
Evaluating each role, they assessed how likely each was to be done by robots in the future, based on how easily the tasks within it could be automated. Unsurprisingly, their at-risk list included a variety of office-based roles.
ItΓÇÖs bad news for telemarketers, who languished at the bottom of the list as the most likely to be replaced by robots. Other office-based roles which didnΓÇÖt fare well included a range of administrative functions, such as data entry keyers, processing clerks and telephone operators. Secretaries, receptionists and assistant-level roles were also deemed to be at risk.
Management level roles, on the other hand, were considered less easily computerisable. In the low risk category, HR managers, training and development managers, sales managers, marketing managers and purchasing managers ΓÇô all roles which involve a complex range of communication skills, such as presentation and negotiation.
Meet Shanice ΓÇô your holographic replacement
If youΓÇÖve been wondering how computers could replace receptionists, Brent Council believes it has found the answer in the form of its new virtual receptionist, Shanice.
Strictly speaking, Shanice isnΓÇÖt a robot ΓÇô sheΓÇÖs a hologram ΓÇô a distinction which will be of small comfort to the office workers she has replaced. In her new post front of house at the councilΓÇÖs Civic Hall, Shanice can answer a range of basic questions, mostly directing visitors to different areas within the building.
SheΓÇÖs also saving the council a small fortune ΓÇô ┬ú17,000 per year in salaries to be precise ΓÇô and all for the princely sum of just ┬ú12,000 to install.
Being able to automate processes is one thing, but what about those soft skills, those human qualities which make for successful face-to-face communications? Permanently and perfectly cheery she may be, but Shanice is entirely incapable of tact.
Faced with a distressed and confused customer, she canΓÇÖt sympathise. Faced with an embarrassing enquiry, she canΓÇÖt act with discretion. And faced with an infuriated customer, she can do absolutely nothing to calm them down and diffuse the situation. We anticipate her perfect smile will become irritating very quickly.
Nonetheless, Brent Council has chosen Shanice over a flesh-and-blood employee.
Of course, not all robots are quite so sinister. For every Dalek, thereΓÇÖs an R2-D2 who just wants to help. The Anybot and the BEAM remote presence are among a new generation of office robots which actually help human workers to do their jobs more efficiently.
Both products enable absent workers to be present in the workplace even when theyΓÇÖre really a thousand miles away. Using these robots ΓÇô both of which are human height ΓÇô workers can do things like participate in meetings and mooch around the office.
Like Shanice the virtual receptionist, these robotic presences are already in use. Anybot is a favourite in Silicon Valley, where Evernote CEO Phil Libin uses one to stay in touch with the office when heΓÇÖs away on business.
And while we have to admit thereΓÇÖs something a little eerie about robotic versions of our co-workers zipping round the office, theyΓÇÖre a lot more appealing than the human-free kind of robot which could render us all redundant.
Robot-proof your role
So how do you robot-proof your job? In general, Frey and OsborneΓÇÖs study found that there were a number of key qualities which made a job less easily computerisable. Creativity is one very human quality which robots have yet to replicate ΓÇô its unpredictability and the emphasis on originality making it difficult to reduce to so much code.
Specialist roles were also less likely to be at risk, as were more senior positions. In general, the less people employed within a particular role, the less likely it is to become computerised in the near future.
So nowΓÇÖs the time to pursue that job youΓÇÖve always wanted in the creative industries. Either that, or learn how to programme and maintain the new generation of robotic workers.
Will robots run the offices of the future? Could they do your job? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Image by superde1uxe via Flickr.
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