I have been working as an independent consultant for about 15 years. I have had a pretty independent mindset, though, since about 3 or 4 years after I left college. Given current global and local trends – disappearing factory jobs, stagnant salaries and wages, and the automation of things once thought unautomatable (is that a word?) – it’s a good thing I have that mindset. If you’ve read the amazing book, Linchpin by Seth Godin, you will get some of what I am going to describe.
What happens when a robot can do your job? No need to speculate. The U.S. has been hemorrhaging auto-plant jobs for 3 decades. The UAW, and along with it Detroit, has been on the verge of collapse since I can remember. Why? Mexico? China? Japan? Nope. It’s Hal 9000. Or Herbie the Love Bug. Or C3PO. Whatever you call it (Marvin?), a robot can do the repetitive work of screwing in bolts, welding parts, and painting cars faster, better, more consistently, and way cheaper than Johnny Lunchpail.
No worries, say my fellow engineers. The robots will always need someone to design them. To write the software that tells the robots what to do. Really? Guess what. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly getting to the point where it can design robots, write the software that controls robots, and even think up new robots. Scarier still, AI will soon be able to design and build new AI. And by the middle of the next decade, the AI that AI designs and builds will be better than the AI that designed and built it. Scared yet?
It’s easy to see who loses in this game. Anyone who depends on a job that requires compliance to a definable set of rules. Because if you can write down a set of rules, then you can program a robot to do it. If you can easily write your job description with little thought, then very soon, someone will program a computer to do it. Even the programmer’s job will go away once an AI figures out how to program a computer to do his job.
So, who wins? Part 2, coming soon.