There have been predictions that gains in productivity, robotics and computerization will mean an increase in leisure hours, dangerous societal repercussions or alternately a dearth of jobs for human beings. As early as the 1960s both popular and scientific literature predicted that with the advent of automation and productivity future humans – they meant us – would be working minimal hours or be out of work.
The predictions turned out to be wrong. Firstly, advances in technology have been uneven. Secondly, change in technology has also translated into the need for more input, toil and income and thus requiring contemporary men and women to work more to be able to afford said technology. In plain English, we need to work even more to be able to buy all the things we want that we did not even know about fifty years ago. Sorry, Scientific American. Growth in productivity has been accompanied by a growth in technological Joneses.
Wrongly or rightly, predictions that human jobs will be replaced by technology and robotics has already partly happened. Telephone operators or typists are obvious examples. Now, let us assume for the moment that Replicants, Skynet or Cylons are either not going to come into being or, if they do, which is the likely scenario will not seek to usurp their short-sighted creators, but that did not stop Oxford University professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from publishing a much-discussed paper on mankind’s employability resilience. They also hypothesized that advances in technology vis-a-vis human happiness and employment do not constitute a linear path from the 19th to 20th to the 21st century. Moreover, the composition of the employment market will change. They argue that employment will shift to industries where productivity is growing. Except, this time there is a caveat. The famous ‘knowledge worker’ will not be able to out-smart or out-knowledge computerisation.
What I find interesting is the discussion of ‘big data.’ This term could mean many things and refers to concepts as related, but diverse, as HADOOP, social media, IOT (Internet Of Things) or the digitization of all human knowledge. For once, computers or robots will not be asked to replace human activity in a specific environment or domain. They are being fashioned to do it all inclusive of tasks unforeseen. Think about it. This is not a robotic assembly line. This is a domain-less knowledge worker. The said ‘worker’ can do legal analysis, drive, conduct surgery or do something as mundane as find one a telephone number on the Internet.
So, what do the researchers think about the chances of sales becoming automated and job losses in the occupation. We have all heard the adage that ‘people buy from people.’ Is it true or merely another in the long list of dated, or patently false, tidbits?
Before answering it is useful to note that the researchers explain that there is a smaller chance that position which require “creative intelligence” (basically the ability to be clever and non-routine) and “social intelligence” (essentially the ability to understand others and react) will fall prey to obsolescence. In another cruel and Darwinian twist of fate, the model therefore predicts that lower paid jobs (included the dreaded McJobs) will be susceptible to automation more than higher paid jobs. Generally speaking, executive positions, business and healthcare jobs are at a lower risk of replacement. Construction, transportation and production jobs are in the higher risk category. More specifically for us, telemarketers (the single most endangered position in the Appendix), retail and insurance sales are highly likely to be replaced. Negotiators, which potentially might include, very experienced salespersons or management are not. Junior or mid-experience salespersons do not fare well in the modelling however.
*Things That Need To Go Away: low energy and boring ‘sales’ with no creativity, knowledge or appeal.