Technology has advanced at an astonishing rate in recent years, most notably in the areas of artificial intelligence, Big Data and robotics. Forward-looking companies like Google and Tesla are testing self-driving cars, and many individuals have a "virtual personal assistant" named Siri or Cortana on their phones - phones that have more computing power than NASA did mere decades ago. Vivian Giang, writing for FastCompany, relates that the Henn-na Hotel in Japan and the Yotel in New York each utilize a robotic staff to handle everything from greeting guests to cleaning rooms and other service-related jobs.
Healthcare, financial services, and many other industries outside of Silicon Valley have also benefited from the technological advances made in recent decades. Digital imaging, 3D printing, and wearable tech are improving lives, while robo-advisors - automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advisors- are providing financial advice to a growing number of people without the use of human financial planners.
Last month, we wrote about how law firms have increasingly embraced technology to improve knowledge management and predict the outcome of litigation. Artificial intelligence may even play a more impactful role in the practice of law.
Big Data - Predicting Human Behavior
Businesses are using Big Data to learn more about their customers than ever before. "As more of our movements, browsing patterns, purchase history and social media interactions become electronically measurable, more companies will find ways to use this data to predict our activities and make money" according to Paul J. D'Arcy, an entrepreneur and CMO.
A noteworthy example of predictive analytics includes when retail chain Target was able to predict a teenager's pregnancy based on her purchase history, and when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stated in a TED talk that credit card companies can predict a divorce two years before it happens based on cardholder data and purchase decisions. Health care companies are starting to use technology to predict the future patient needs of their insured members through electronic tracking of health records.
Anxiety - Feeling the Pressure
While there is no shortage of individuals who praise the benefits of advanced technology, there are an equal number who voice concern, even fear, that technology will eliminate a large number of jobs in the coming years.
A 2013 University of Oxford study found that 47 percent of U.S. jobs--- an estimated 5 million-- are at a "high risk" of being automated in the next decade, with transportation, logistics and administrative occupations as the most vulnerable.
More specifically, Business Insider reports that 47 percent of employees in financial services "believe technology is putting their job at risk," while 37 percent of compliance employees, 15 percent of human resources workers, and 14 percent of those in engineering, feel similarly.
The Human Touch
So, how do we, as humans in an ever-increasingly digitized world, add value or protect ourselves from being replaced by AI or technology?
In his book Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin poses the question "What are the activities that we humans...will simply insist be performed by other humans, even if computers can do them?"
Setting aside the simple fact that machines, computers, and robots will, for the foreseeable future, require humans to design, build, and maintain them, Colvin argues that we will always insist that important decisions remain in the hands of humans.
Colvin writes that "there is a social necessity that individuals be accountable for important decisions." He further explains that those in leadership positions, or "accountability roles," such as CEOs, business and government leaders, and generals, will remain in those roles for the same reason. The hardest activities to automate with currently available technology are those that involve managing and developing people. So it appears that CEOs, Presidents, and other business leaders are immune to a robotic takeover, for now.
Top executives need to identify they ways in which employees and technology can complement each other. Managers should continue to develop their workforce and create opportunities for employees to learn and utilize the advanced technology available to them. Executives must also think about which of their own activities could be more efficiently executed by machines, so that they can focus on the leadership qualities that no robot or algorithm can replace.
There is no denying that technology will continue to be a catalyst for transformative changes throughout the economy and society. But like humans have done for centuries, the key to success is being adaptable. Embrace the qualities that make us human and strive to improve them.