How to know if, and when, your job is being taken over by the bots

Abhijit Bhaduri January 4, 2017 5 min

You can still find lift operators in some old buildings in India. He (it’s usually a him) opens the collapsible iron gates of the old-style cage lift to let you in and sits back on his rickety wooden stool as it begins its upward journey with a slight jerk. He opens the gates for you when you get off the contraption (often with a sigh of relief) and settles back down on his stool to continue ferrying passengers. You’re glad he’s there in case the lift gets stuck due to a power cut or a breakdown. Haven’t most of us gotten stuck some time in one of these lifts and would’ve panicked if it weren’t for the liftman?

Jobs do not disappear overnight. They offer many warnings. The signs are usually around for a while before a job goes kaput, and yet people are caught by surprise when they realise it no longer exists  

The liftman’s job is under threat. Automation has made it redundant. Today’s swank elevators with their optimum lighting, smooth metal doors with sensors, destination control and rider flow mechanisms need no door-opening or closing. They’re simple enough for anyone to operate (heck, some of them don’t even have buttons) and smart enough to cluster passengers based on their destinations, cutting travel time by half. They’re also equipped with IOT-based safety mechanisms that send out real-time alerts about anything that needs attention.

Disruption: The sign of five

Mark my words, jobs do not disappear overnight. They offer many warnings. The signs are usually around for a while before a job goes kaput, and yet people are caught by surprise when they realise their job no longer exists.

Sometimes, it’s not just a particular type of job, but an entire industry that may be undergoing transformation. Take India’s hitherto ballooning IT industry for example. Hiring by top IT firms in India (HCL, Infosys, TCS, Tech Mahindra and Wipro) is projected to be down by 47% in 2017 compared to last year. This sector is no longer going to provide employment to millions.

liftoperator_inside2
Disruptive technology such as artificial intelligence and robotics are causing job cuts

The arrival of driverless cars — it’s estimated that by 2030 driverless cars may comprise about 60% of US auto sales, although it seems India is not ready for them — will change multiple industries. To begin with, we will no longer need drivers to drive commercial or private vehicles. Second, their superhuman-like ability to recognise the world around them makes driverless cars safer than those driven by humans, so, we’re likely to have fewer accidents. This means we will not need as many doctors as we do today to attend to accident victims. The auto insurance industry will probably shrink, and won’t hire as many insurance salespersons. And so forth.

Such disruption is happening across industries. Here are the five major signs of an industry facing oblivion:

  • The leaders of the industry are not setting the rules anymore.
  • It is hard to convince people to join the industry. Enrolments are dropping in colleges that train people for this sector.
  • The overall number of people employed by the industry has not grown for a few years.
  • What was once a premium service has now been commoditised.
  • Unbridled optimism of the industry’s captains even as member companies continue to struggle with shrinking profit margins and lack of cutting-edge skills.

Where the bots could take over

New disruptive technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, while helping companies and industries grow productivity are also causing job cuts. IBM Watson, for instance, is able to diagnose and treat cancer better than any human doctor.

L’Oreal has created an app called Make-Up Genius that allows people to try out make up virtually without having to spend hours physically applying and removing colour options. This is a threat to the role of make-up assistants in supermarkets.

Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. In 2015, Amazon had about 30,000 Kiva robots in its warehouses across the globe. By the time the year ended in 2016, Amazon had employed 45,000 robots in the warehouses.

Jobs will be created, nurtured and destroyed by technology. There will be no exceptions. Let 2017 be the year you get ready to get disrupted  

Associated Press uses ‘robot journalists’ to write quarterly earnings reports. Fox News too has a news-writing bot generating sports recaps for its Big Ten Network site. Journalists (at least some of them) are under threat from such bots and software like Wordsmith, which is being used to create automated reports.

Here are three parameters to gauge whether a job can be done by robots:

  • The job is driven by a clear set of rules and scenarios. That’s how robots are programmed.
  • Efficiency and productivity are the main measures of the job.
  • The role of soft skills — collaboration, influencing, negotiation etc — is limited.

Every sector from agriculture to aviation is getting disrupted. Political changes impact the business scenario, and we have had quite a few in recent times. As the newage customer opts for access rather than ownership, business models are witnessing seismic changes.

All industries and jobs will be be redefined by digital technology. Technology will be Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva of jobs. Jobs will be created, nurtured and destroyed by technology. There will be no exceptions.

Let 2017 be the year you get ready to get disrupted.


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