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Friday
Apr072017

What human ability makes you irreplaceable? 

The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): What can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?

It was always important, but now it's urgent. - 23 things artificially intelligent computers can do better/faster/cheaper than you can Seth Godin

Robots are people too! Or at least they will be someday. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots

There are a number of workers I just don’t see much of anymore…

  • I don’t see parking lot attendants when entering or leaving the airport anymore. My credit card talks to a machine on the way in and again on the way out.
  • I don’t talk to check-in people at the airline counters anymore. My credit card talks to a terminal that prints out my boarding pass. That is if I’ve not already checked in online and printed my pass at home.
  • I am seeing fewer bank tellers and grocery clerks. My cash card talks to the ATM and to the cash register at the supermarket after I have scanned my own groceries.
  • I don’t hear the voice of a human telephone operator, tech support, or reservation clerks until I’ve waded through a half dozen phone menus.
  • My children think I am telling tall tales when I tell them that I once had “people” who pumped my gas, washed my car windows, filled my tires and sometimes gave me a free tumbler as a gift when I went to a service station. Gone Missing, LMC, May/June 2010

Automating a subset of a position’s tasks doesn’t make the other ones unnecessary — in fact, it makes them more important. David Autor Will automation take away all our jobs?

What do I do that a robot cannot? We should all have been asking ourselves that question for at least the past 10 years.

Below is a chart labeled with the sexy title “Trends in Tasks Done by the U.S. Workforce 1969-1998 (1969=0)” that appeared way, way back in 2004. (Levy. Frank and Richard J. Murnane. “Education and the Changing Job Market” Educational Leadership, October 2004.)

We've known the need for humans in the workforce has been evolving for some time. As this chart indicates, eventually the remaining jobs will be those that require a high level of complex communication and expert thinking. And, I would add, creativity.

Personally, I am happy to have a robot fix my teeth or book a flight for me. There is a reason we have the term "human error" and I know from personal experience that my robot built car of today is a heck of a lot more reliable and long-lasting than my human built car of the 1970s.

It's only when I have a problem with my teeth that standard procedures won't fix that I would like the human dentist to intervene. And while a computer can get me on a plane from point A to point b efficiently, I'd just as soon a human travel agent would recommend a nice hotel at point b.

I had a too-often occurring conversation yesterday with my home Internet provider. An email revealed that my CenturyLink bill somehow went from the normal $33 a month to $67 a month in April. Hmmmm, worth a call. I punch in the 1-800 and find that automation, of course, gives me lots of choices, identifies me, and gives me simple information like my account balance. All "routine cognitive work."

Finally, I find the right number to push and a human (I think) gets on the line. "Jim" is jovial and chatty and tells me that my special introductory rate has expired which is why my bill doubled. So, old friend, how do I get this rate extended? Oh, sir, I do not have the tools to do that, Jim from Boise laments. Then I will cancel my service agreement since I know I have other, lower cost providers available. "Let me transfer you to the agent who handles cancellations. And have a nice day."

I am quickly connected to Randy, who while not quite so chummy, quickly realizes that I am serious about canceling my plan and quickly finds the correct "tool" to continue my plan for another two years with only a five dollar a month increase in cost. Randy works in the realm of expert thinking. While he, I am sure, has guidelines to follow, he intuits and finds the solution to problem of keeping a customer.

You have entered the realm of expert thinking and complex communications as soon as you utter the words, "May I talk to your supervisor, please."

I suspect artificial intelligence will increasingly have the ability to make judgement calls. Solve problems. Figure stuff out. Robots will eventually trouble-shoot and repair or re-engineer robots. We may find our only value in life is to be amusing to our computer overlords.

If your job requires you act or respond in a single correct way based on pre-defined criteria, start thinking about finding another line of work.

Oh, and if your kid's tests call for a single right answer, start looking for another school.

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