None of us – that’s zero – want to believe that we’ll be the ones who actually lose our jobs to Artificial Intelligence/Robotics (AIR) … that one dark and shameful day we’ll be placing the contents of our cube or office into a cardboard box after being told by our employer, “Hey, it isn’t you … it’s us. You’re great, really. Don’t go changing. We just found something that can do your job … uh, how to put this gently? Better, faster, longer and cheaper. Sorry. I hear they’re hiring at Burger Zone … no, wait … they went full automation last week. Again, so sorry.”
No. That will never happen to us, we tell ourselves. We harbor that deep, nurturing and cuddly belief that we’re special, dammit – we’re the unique super-snowflake whose value proposition the organization simply cannot do without. This belief carries us through our professional lives and is like being swaddled in an emotional Snuggie. Seriously, they’d have to shut down the business tomorrow were we to be hit by a beer truck tonight. Why do we believe this? Is it the secret bedtime story that we tell ourselves when our heavy, exhausted head hits the pillow each night in order to convince ourselves that we actually make a difference … that our daily labors add up to something that matters so we can muster the strength to flop out of bed and do it again tomorrow? Perhaps.
We all want to matter and to believe what we do is significant. At the very least, we do what we do so we can support ourselves and those who may depend upon us.
So we believe we’re special and getting clipped and flipped will happen to the other guy. All right, fine … I sincerely hope that’s true. This belief is not harmful unless it makes us more vulnerable in that we’re not able to fully recognize potential threats and plan for how to deal with them. It’s OK if we want to swaddle ourselves in a yummy-fluffy blanket of denial, just so long as no shrapnel flies our way. Snuggies make for lousy body armor.
Other than the vulnerability manifested by denial, something that makes us a viable candidate for being replaced by AIR may be that underneath it all, when we get down to bedrock …. we’re basically lazy. And laziness is denial’s evil twin. Denial is the charm we use to ward off fear – fear that the rules affecting us may change and that we may actually have to do something about it.
We’ll deny that we’re lazy once every day and twice on Sunday, but deep down, we are. Hey, it happens. Here’s how: we get a job (whether blue or white collar, sweaty or starched – doesn’t matter), we learn how to do that job, we tackle it with the vim and vigor and enthusiasm we reserve for all things new and glossy … then we get comfortable.
Comfy in the environment, comfy in the tasks associated with the job, comfy with the folks with whom we interact, comfy with the commute, et cetera, et cetera. Simply put, we place ourselves in a rut. And ruts are really easy to navigate. Autopilot engaged.
When we put /ourselves/ on autopilot, how much harder could it be to /actually/ automate the job? Just sayin’.
(I once heard an old-school self-help radio broadcast by Earl Nightingale in which he said that “a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.” Well … ouch, Uncle Earl. That one stung a little bit. ‘Tis true though – that’s why it smarts.)
We stop evolving. We stop going the distance, or at least reaching a little bit past what’s required of us. We do what’s required – no more, no less. We dislocate our shoulder patting ourselves on the back when we get a “Meets Expectations” on a job review.
This all-too-human tendency is what makes us a throbbing, juicy target. This, coupled with sufficiently advanced and cost-effective technology now capable of being brought to bear on our jobs. And these technologies are improving with each passing moment. Tools, meet need. It won’t be a fair fight (whatever that is). The vast majority of us have been conditioned and numbed … show up, do your thing, get paid. Rinse, repeat, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
Under traditional circumstances that model was viable, but the rules are changing very quickly. The things is, if the capabilities had been in place earlier, we would have seen this shift happen sooner.
There are, of course, exceptions. There are folks who work to constantly and (as much as possible) objectively self-assess their skills against the context of the world in which they work and determine how best to evolve to deal with the demands of that world. These individuals are rare – unicorns and Sasquatches, really (what’s the proper plural on that …. Sasquatchaii? I’ll have to ask a cryptozoologist later). But we’re all going to have to take a page from their playbook and sprout horns and unseemly amounts of body hair very soon if we’re going to survive and thrive in the coming environment.
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