From the Archive – Future Friday: The explanation of the future is about prediction and not certainty

If this storm map was a map of technology heading your way would you really be able to predict exactly what the impact on your business might be?

Many people have been writing about predictions for 2018. I wanted to republish this post from last September as a reminder that there is nothing certain in those predictions.
This past week Hurricane Irma ripped through the Southeast, wreaking mass destruction and havoc. Many people in the Southeast are not able to read this blog post because they remain without power, even as far north as Atlanta. Irma was a good model for what is going to happen in the workplace with technology and robotics. I am not talking about actual destruction but certainly disruption.

Predicting the path

Like many of you I was glued to my TV and Android device watching the weather predictions. It was predicted the hurricane would hit, but the actual path changed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It was originally to travel up the eastern part of Florida then it shifted west and came up the western part of the state. It was supposed to travel up through Georgia to Atlanta but then is shifted into Alabama. This made the destruction even worse in Atlanta because it is always worse to be on the Eastern edge of a hurricane.

A good analogy

Irma, and the weather service’s inability to exactly pinpoint its path until almost the last moment is a good analogy for how technology will affect the workplace. We know that technology is going to disrupt the workplace, but until it gets much closer we may not be able to say what that disruption will be.
Ross Gittins, an economic writer for the Australian website The Age, writes in his article Why the robot revolution won’t play out as predicted that much of the dire prediction of jobs being replaced by robots is based on models that are incomplete. They are much like the weather reports of the hurricane, we know robots are coming but we cannot say exactly where they will hit the workplace and what the damage may be. He says what is being touted as fact is in reality “…just a prediction about the distant future based on ‘modeling’”.

Analysis doesn’t include parts of jobs

The modeling that has been done typically takes a look at the whole job. They look at whether a job has a great deal of repetition and made an assessment of whether the job was “at risk” of automation. Some jobs have a lot of repetitive tasks in them, but also require fine finger manipulation or people interaction. Can such a worker really be replaced by robots? In this analysis of
jobs being replaced there also needs to be an analysis of the financial viability of the technology. Just because you can replace workers doesn’t mean business will if it is not financially feasible to do so.

Pay attention to the signals

What the good HR leader needs to do is pay attention to the signals. Understand what is potentially coming. Analyze the current jobs on a more detailed basis to determine the skill sets that can and cannot be replaced. You can prepare for the “storm” in much the same way Florida residents boarded up their windows. For some that prove to be precautionary, while for others absolutely essential. Dealing with technology will be the same way. Just as the track of Irma saved some residents from massive destruction, so may changes in technology not have as big an impact on jobs in some industries. My tips for dealing with the future of technology:

  • Be aware of the coming “storm.”
  • Make plans, by analyzing jobs that could potentially be replaced.
  • “Board up” your windows by doing training to make employees more valuable.
  • Adjust to the last minute directional changes as they occur.

3 thoughts on “From the Archive – Future Friday: The explanation of the future is about prediction and not certainty”

  1. I like this analogy! I didn’t see it when reading about Irma over the past week, but it makes sense. Both are potential disasters that are looming that humans feel as though they have no control over, and that certainly scares them more than anything. While I don’t think technology will take over as many jobs as predicted, I do think that it is wise for HR personnel to take action now! Many employers/HR departments aren’t using technology or sourcing globally, but there is time to brush up on these basics (this article is a good place to start: I don’t think that AI will serve as a replacement as much as it will an aid, but it’s important to switch over to the new tech and get a good grip on it before AI tries to blow it (and the human experience) away! Thanks for sharing.

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