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Why sentient tools will be catastrophic to the job market

Rob Enderle | Oct. 10, 2016
Columnist Rob Enderle writes that the rapid rise of sentient technologies such as autonomous cars will have a major impact on the job market that could leave a huge number of people unemployed and a substantial number of companies non-viable.

The end result is, and will be, a broad set of tools that can outperform humans in a variety of jobs. The overall impact of which has also been discussed in the books The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, and the somewhat older The Lights in the Tunnel: Automaton, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.

Timing of impact

The paper breaks down the impact into four periods: Less than 2 years, 2-5 years, 5-10 years and more than 10 years. Be aware the farther out the period the higher the risk that the timeline will be disrupted by an unanticipated event like a major breakthrough, unplanned government action, or unanticipated obstacle.

Less than 2 years: Smart cities mature and contribute to the growing digital economy. Cloud-based AI and robotics develop. Deployment of deep learning accelerates.

2 - 5 years: Smart city opportunity crests $1.5 trillion. Mobile robotics revolutionize a variety of industries, the need arises for self-programed (learning) factories and automation increases dramatically. Neural networks allow systems to emulate human employees broadly.

5 - 10 years: Massive industry consolidation around intelligent services. Cities become data hubs. Intelligent machines can fully converse with humans. Human levels of performance achieved across a broad variety of systems. Systems fully adapt to the unique needs of the humans that interact with them.

10 years+: Quantum processors enter market moving systems well beyond human capabilities. Personal intelligent robots become mainstream particularly for elder care. Autonomous cars become dominant, causing a 90 percent reduction in accidents, collapse of related insurance revenues and approximate $1 billion savings in related costs nationally (I believe this number is understated significantly).

Preparing for the impact of automation

The paper recommends that organizations prioritize their preparedness by looking at each employee and assess the impact of automation on the related job. I’d also suggest ranking the jobs by exposure and letting the employee know once a plan to retrain them has been developed, so this retraining is timely.

Develop broad training and education programs to make sure the firm has the people it needs by the time it is ready to implement Sentient Tools broadly. Assess the changes against current business plans organizations and explore business models, changes in support structure, and organizations in line with these advancements. Update the strategic IT plan to assure IT is ready and anticipate necessary partnerships and ecosystem development opportunities connected to the change.

The paper and, particularly the GAO report, goes into far more detail calling out specific leading vendors and changes in broad skill categories that will occur. But overall we are talking about a massive change across the developed world which will likely leave, within a 10-year planning horizon, a huge number of people unemployed and a substantial number of companies non-viable unless a lot of planning and preparation is started.


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