Working in the age of Alexa: Is your job at risk?

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Depending on your age, your first knowledge of robots and artificial intelligence probably came from science fiction, TV shows, or movies.

Whether it was from watching the seemingly sentient computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the hunting mechanical hound from Fahrenheit 451, or even the droids in Star Wars, we’ve been conditioned to believe that robots, computers, and artificial intelligence (AI) would be our future—and ultimately lead to our destruction.

And if you read the forecast from Oxford University back in 2013, you know that researchers predicted that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated by 2033. Even naysayers claim that AI will eradicate 800 million jobs worldwide. Naturally, numbers like these make people nervous.
Should you be nervous? Is your job at risk?

Is Alexa stealing your job?

To answer this question, Oxford University created this chart, illustrating which jobs are at risk of being automated. There are 700 different professions on this list. Researchers studied these jobs for years to determine which ones are most likely to be made obsolete by technology.

It’s an exhaustive list, but it provides a good sense of whether your job will be computerized or automated. Clearly, it’s a list that will also make many people uncomfortable.

What do the most likely to be automated jobs have in common?

Workers in these jobs perform repetitive tasks. If you can write instructions on how to complete a task (because you’ve done it more than once), then there’s a good possibility it can be replicated by a machine or artificial intelligence.

Look around your current workplace and ask yourself, “What do I currently do that’s mundane, repetitive, and could be replaced by a machine?” If it’s possible for a machine to take over some of these tasks, you can be sure that someone is working on developing that capability.

Instead of worrying that you will lose your job because artificial intelligence can do it for you, ask yourself what you can do that artificial intelligence can’t do right now.

The jobs of the future will complement artificial intelligence.

The jobs of the future will be new roles that work alongside artificial intelligence, filling in where AI cannot.

Back when desktop computers were initially installed everywhere, there was an outcry, like today, about mass unemployment. When companies introduced robots into factory lines, there were fears that human jobs would be “no more.”

But history has shown that each major change to how we work creates new jobs, and artificial intelligence will be no exception.

Look at how many jobs we now have in the computer industry. All of Silicon Valley exists, along with its millions of jobs, because of the new jobs computers created. Artificial intelligence will do the same.

In the very near future, more humans will work in jobs that function together with AI. These will include jobs we don’t even know we need yet. The important point here is that computers and AI follow rules, while humans learn and evolve through experiences. So there will always be jobs that only humans can do.

Take the U.S. Postal Service as an example. Ninety-nine percent of its mail sorting has been automated. The remaining 1 percent needs to be completed by a human because machines cannot confidently read addresses that are sloppily rendered or obscured by packaging. Each day, the U.S. Postal Service handles about 500 million pieces of mail—and five million of these items are interpreted manually by humans. These jobs will not disappear. They underscore the need for humans to work alongside AI.

AI will create processes we don’t know we need yet.

Like the computers and robots that came before it, AI will create new processes. Sure, components of your job may disappear, but methods will be improved. In your current workplace, you’ll surely find an operational area that AI can improve. Maybe it’s an old, outdated internal process that currently relies on humans, like project tracking. Or perhaps it’s something that was challenging in the past and ignored. You know those “we’ve tolerated this because there’s no easy fix” issues? Those things can be fixed with AI.

Gather your team together and brainstorm. Ask them, “If X wasn’t a problem, what would we look like now?” For instance: “If we didn’t have to all come here to this office and work together, what would this meeting look like now?”

Our future will be focused on humans plus machines, not humans or machines. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

AI will provide opportunities.

Keeping our eyes open to the possibilities of the future is essential. We all need to adopt a new mindset. Alexa is not stealing our jobs, she’s making our lives easier by offloading the time-consuming, repetitive (and often dull) tasks we do now. Which means we can bring more of our human value—our personality, compassion, and decision-making abilities—to the workplace.

By keeping your eyes open to what you offer that makes you unique, you’ll ensure that your job is safe from Alexa.

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Rhonda Scharf is an award-winning speaker, consultant, and author specializing in tech-driven people power. For over 25 years, she has helped companies and individuals get on the right track and improve their productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. She’s conducted more than 2,500 training workshops and seminars for Fortune 100 companies and tens of thousands of people worldwide. Her new book is Alexa Is Stealing Your Job: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Future

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