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Get ready for your new co-worker – the robot

Sharon Gaudin | April 22, 2016
Author says successful workers will soon be working with intelligent systems.

Manufacturing and labor-intensive jobs aren't the only ones at risk. Davenport noted that knowledge workers' tasks could be taken over by robotics or smart machines. Over the next 20 years, that could affect fields like law, medicine, accounting, marketing and yes, even journalism.

"Those are the areas being targeted by IBM's Watson and other cognitive technologies," said Davenport. "They involve so much knowledge that humans just can't deal with it anymore. Oncology, for instance, is so complex, and with genomics, how do you keep track of all the cancer genes?"

That means people should think about working with robots and smart systems.

"I think that in many cases we'll be working with these machines as colleagues," explained Davenport. "In insurance, a human underwriter might do the more difficult cases where some research is required or some data is missing.... In other cases, the machine might do work you used to do and you're just making sure it's done well. Or it'll be like they're working for you."

Those who accept that kind of change and embrace it are likely to do well.

"I do think it's not unreasonable that as we see particular tasks being taken over, we get quite nervous about it," he added. "Work is pretty important to us humans. To take that away is kind of scary. For knowledge workers, which are at the higher end of the food chain, that's pretty scary."

For those doing the jobs expected to be taken over by machines, it's time to look at how they can oversee the robots or find different tasks once they're freed up from more mundane chores. They could also consider moving into positions where they're building robots, supporting them or marketing them.

If you want to avoid robots, then you need to select a profession carefully. Davenport recommends TV comedy writing.

"There is plenty of room for optimism," said Davenport. "The machines will take over tasks that were not that exciting to begin with. And if they're diagnosing cancer faster or making suggestions for better cancer treatments, how do you object to that?"


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