Four Steps to Avoid Having a Robot Replace Your Job

| October 4, 2017

In 1811, textile workers and weavers in Nottingham England banded together and for two years destroyed weaving machinery to protest the loss of their jobs – and the battle has been going on ever since.  As technology increases, jobs considered safe and central to the working economy are replaced by machines.  Historically, technology has always created more jobs than it has destroyed, and has vastly expanded wealth.  But that takes time, and in any generation, the jobs lost are acutely felt by those who filled them.

Today, with the advent of artificial intelligence, machines are challenging the most learned of professions.  Surgical robots are already taking over the operating theater. The da Vinci Surgery System was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, using operating robots controlled from a console, and have since performed two million procedures. It seems no job or profession is immune from the advances of technology.

So, what should you do to make yourself safe from being replaced?

Robots are very good at preforming repetitive tasks.  They have long been used on the automobile assembly line at the cost of manufacturing jobs.  ATMs have replaced bank tellers.  Major league baseball is considering using them to call balls and strikes.   Essentially, what we are seeing today is the expansion of what we think of as “repetitive jobs” to include taxi drivers (already being replaced by Uber drivers — with driver-less cars on the way), pharmacists, and telemarketers.

What robots do not do well are to maintain interpersonal relationships, and creative thinking.  A machine can flawlessly read you a book, but not teach you a college course.  It can analyze data, but not start a company.  It can perform the surgery, but has a terrible bedside manner.

Geoff Colvin (, in his book Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, argues that abilities needed for success are no longer the technical left-brain skills; but instead those essentially human abilities like empathy, creativity, social awareness, and team building. He cites examples of this emerging consensus, such as the Cleveland Clinic, which emphasizes empathy training of doctors and all employees to improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs; and American Express, that found when it threw out its call-center scripts and let service representatives actually talk to people, profits went up and employee attrition went down.

So, as today’s economy moves ever forward with greater technology, the jobs most needed for us humans are likely to be those which require the greatest empathy, interpersonal skills, and creative thought.  To prepare yourself, and to advance your career, the following practical steps are being recommended by economists:

  1. Embrace the technology that makes your job most efficient. The greatest advantage that machines have is their efficiency.  In the long run, you will never be able to match them in the repetitive tasks.  But that does not mean you should not become more efficient in what you do.  By using available technology, and growing with it, you will maximize your value and minimize the lost effort that makes robotics a threat.
  2. Emphasize the Human Aspects of Your Business. Realize that clients and customers do not just come to you for product, they come for advice and relationships.  Build the appeal of your business around those qualities.  Deliver personalized service, build personal connections, and make sure your clients know that you do the most important thing a robot cannot do – YOU CARE about them.
  3. Become More Specialized. The more specialized your focus, the greater opportunity there is for you to be creative in it.  Those things that you know just enough to deliver satisfactory performance are not the areas where you can propose innovative solutions.  The deeper you can go into a particular subject or in the service of a particular market, the more creative you can be and the deeper will be the relationships that you build.
  4. Take Time to Think. One of the most important things any person in business can do is to set aside an hour or two each week just to think.  Creative ideas come best when your mind is cleared of the tasks you need to do that day.  Albert Einstein was famous for his “thought experiments.” You may not reach for relativity, but new ideas are best realized when your mind if free to wander.

Finally, don’t worry – robots will not rule the world; nor will they end the need for human employment.  In the 1930s the famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” predicting that technological advancements would slice the work week down to 15 hours and that the new “permanent problem” would be how to “occupy the leisure” with all of our free time.  We all know how that turned out.


Category: Technology

About the Author ()

George Jetson is an executive at Spacely’s Space Sprockets working with high level technology as the Company’s digital index operator. He lives in Orbit City, with his wife Jane (a member of the Galaxy Women Historical Society), and his children Judy and Elroy.  Mr. Jetson’s church affiliation is not known.