Life After The Robots

Robot Thinking

Imagine life after the robots.

Hollywood portrays humans either at war with robots like Terminator or slaves unwittingly made into power supplies like in The Matrix. Starting with movies like War Games, we’ve been taught the perils of a computer controlling our defenses. More recent flicks like I, Robot and Eagle Eye reinforce some of these fears. Don’t worry as Iron Man and the Transformers will protect us.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, my life was all about data collection. Laser scanners read the bar codes and that data was automatically uploaded. The time it took to do ordinary things like a 2 week inventory now took just half a day.

Regular line workers were leery, while the army of data entry people were afraid of losing their jobs. The phrase “disruptive technology” had not yet been coined. The fact was that very few people lost their jobs. A small number of old-timers retired and the perpetual goofs were released, but most upgraded their skills and moved on. Data entry clerks became inventory analysts at higher pay and warehouse workers increased productivity with higher bonuses.

A couple of years back, I was idly browsing through YouTube and stumbled across a 30 something guy talking about robots taking our jobs. The location read somewhere in California and the backdrop was a poorly lit basement in front of a huge wall of shelves holding books and geeky figurines. He looked like a combination of a character from Duck Dynasty and Big Bang Theory, who couldn’t possibly have a job himself. Maybe he was the hacker from Live Free or Die Hard. The ramblings about robots taking our jobs seemed to have no other point or offer a solution. Now it’s just another group-think concept echoed by liberals.

Today, Google is touting self-driving cars and Watson dominates Jeopardy players. When I see employees hang signs like No SharePoint in work areas, there is an obvious disconnect from reality. Those tidbits you know about e-mail or drive letters for a file server have almost no value going forward.

Specialized skills fade over time to be replaced by documented process and repetitive automation. The only way to hold value for your employer, the marketplace, or your customers is constantly upgrading your skills. Ingenuity and perseverance are two traits machines will never have.

Are you learning yet Terminator?


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