Loyal readers know that I have frequently written about “the dawn of the robots” (which is the title of a Science Fiction book by famed author Isaac Asimov). A recent flurry of articles on the subject of our automated future has more than strengthened my belief that it will be A.I. 1 – Humanity 0 in the foreseeable future.
It is not that I don’t see the business benefits from automation or artificial intelligence. It is undoubtedly true that the Weather Channel app has become infinitely more accurate with the help of IBM’s Watson. And now Watson will do my tax returns, too, courtesy of H&R Block.
McKinsey released a report last month that outlined a number of jobs that are in the process of being hit by the upcoming wave of A.I. automation. And yes, your job and mine is likely included.
The Guardian lists a range of professions “under attack”, and shows examples of companies that offer services today which, in a not-too-near future, will evolve from novelty or fringe to mainstream and norm. Included in the list are lawyers and para-legals, journalists, teachers, actors, most professional driving services (from cars to trucks to delivery vans), hotel and hospital staff, and so on. There are systems out there that can decide very quickly whether a law suit has merit, list a number of related cases as examples and predict a probable outcome. The current crop of chat bots can easily evolve into fully matured journalist bots (they are already out there but in small and embryonic numbers). Fake news? How about synthetic news? And who needs an actor of flesh and blood when you can artificially create one? A 1976 version of Carrie Fisher as well as Peter Cushing ”played” in the most recent Starwars movie (Cushing died in 1994!).
McKinsey also includes “middle management” in their list of endangered job species, although for now at the lower end of the automation threat (34%). There are HR systems in development that will eliminate most of the HR department’s job. And equally, there are business simulation software models that, with the use of smart algorithms, can compute various business outcomes based on different marketing strategies, budgets and plans. And programmatic media means media planning and especially media buying jobs are becoming endangered.
And here is where Wired writer Cade Metz comes in. He wrote that the biggest threat from AI is the death of the middle class. And that conclusion is especially poignant if we assess who carried the most recent presidential election. The president masterfully played to a group of disillusioned lower middle class and blue collar voters. Their jobs were certainly hurt by a movement overseas, but perhaps more so by a wave of automation that over the last 20 or so years literally eliminated many of their jobs – permanently.
There are those who say “but there will be a need for new services and technologists to create and support our automated future”. And it is certainly true that automation, coding and engineering are growth sectors. Sadly, our education system is many, many years away from catering to these new realities.
And regardless: Go visit any large manufacturing plant today (cars, soda, beer, ice-cream, it doesn’t matter). The number of people necessary to build and run such a facility today versus 10, 20 or 50 years ago is dramatically lower.
What is undoubtedly true is that data, analytics & tech stacks and reporting/dashboards are all critical elements of today’s marketing arsenal, and that A.I. is going to power those as much as they might be entering into your production lines, customer service approach or back office support. We can help you think through the complexity of what is truly needed versus what might be “shiny new things” that confuse more than help.
If you are a marketer that says “I have never had more data than today, and I have never been more confused than today” let us help you.
[Maarten is a featured contributor to MediaPost, this article was originally published here]