Home' Forge : Vol 3 No 2 Contents A company director flies interstate
for a board meeting. She checks
into a hotel using a self-service
facility, much like getting a
boarding pass at an airport. Aside
from the director, an attendant
covering the front desk is the hotel
lobby’s solitary human presence.
Later that morning, the director
orders room service via her iPad.
An automated delivery unit brings
the food and collects used trays
left outside other rooms. The only
human interaction in the process
is food preparation and cooking,
much of which is automated.
That afternoon, the director orders
a taxi to take her to the meeting. A
self-driving vehicle picks her up,
calculates the optimal route and,
through sensors, communicates
with other cars on the freeway for a
more efficient, safer journey.
At the board meeting, the director
works with six human directors and
a software algorithm that receives
and analyses board data, and has
full voting rights on the board. Over
time, the algorithm is shown to
make consistently better decisions
than human directors because it
scans information constantly and is
free from decision-making bias.
The next day, a robot vacuums and
cleans the director ’s room. A human
cleaner makes the bed and inspects
the room to fix any cleaning issues
beyond the robot’s capabilities. The
director checks out without any
interaction with human staff.
Welcome to the future of work and
the potential impact of robotics,
artificial intelligence and machine
learning. If the futurists are correct,
these are changes that could shake
business to its core and be one of the
great – if not the greatest – turning
points in human history.
The rise of the machine and
predictions of a jobless future
are, in part, hyperbole. Nobody
knows for sure how automation
will change global industry, or
how quickly. Or whether the gains
from technological automation
will outweigh the costs. Or if
the workforce will adapt to
technological change and prosper,
as it has throughout human history.
As with all megatrends, there is no
shortage of futurists and boosters
predicting profound change from
automation as a means of sparking
demand for their company’s
products or services. There are also
endless wild forecasts about the
effect of automation on billions of
high- and low-paid workers.
One thing, however, is clear:
automation is imminent, across
industry and work tasks.
Self-service kiosks in hotels, for
example, are hardly new; business
travellers are long accustomed to
automated check-ins. Robotic food-
delivery and cleaning devices are
established. Autonomous cars are
still some way off – possibly further
off than many realise – but they
remain the future of transportation.
The robotic company director, too,
is fact rather than fiction. Hong
Kong venture capitalist Deep
Knowledge Ventures appointed the
world’s first robo-director in 2014.
The algorithm, VITAL, analyses
trends in life-science companies
to predict successful investments.
VITAL is an equal member of the
board, and is expected to be given
an equal vote in the company’s
financial decisions in coming years
as its results are tested.
In the earlier story about the company
director, robots have replaced a
check-in assistant, the operator who
takes room-service calls, a maid, a taxi
driver and even a company director.
Manual, repetitive tasks such as
checking guests in lend themselves
to automation, but board governance
requires skill and intuition. Even
creative, knowledge-based jobs are
not immune to automation. This
trend extends far beyond technology
displacing low-paid workers. Many
‘white-collar ’ jobs are becoming
more akin to ‘light-blue collar ’ jobs
as skilled workers take on tasks that
were once the preserve of unskilled or
The magnitude of change is jaw-
dropping. Up to 47 per cent of total
United States employment is at risk
due to automation, as predicted by
a famous 2013 study, ‘The Future
of Employment,’ by University of
Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt
Frey and Michael Osborne.
Baking, for example, has an 89
per cent risk of being replaced by
computers, say Frey and Osborne.
Construction labourers have an
cover story // 25
THE RISE OF THE
OF A JOBLESS
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