Will a robot take your job? By Alex Ogundadegbe

Will a robot take your job? By Alex Ogundadegbe
Alex Ogundadegbe

The Mckinsey website, one of America’s key portals for management development featured a controversial article late in 2020, while many nations were under a COVID 19 imposed lock down. The article reads: Will a Robot take Your Job?  And it looked at the various tasks that robots can undertake and possibly render human beings jobless in the process. The Guardian international also published a story about 27 journalists who were laid off from writing for MSN.com by Microsoft. Robots had taken their jobs!  It sounds quite ideal to have robots or artificial intelligence concepts filling in the sundry tasks that we human beings should not have to deal with. In Iron Man Marvel Universe movies, Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Junior uses JARVIS, a robotic artificial intelligence program that fills in scientific duties in his laboratory and sundry duties at his home.  The concept of robots could make certain tasks more efficient. The first I-phones were assembled at Apple’s factory by people, but as at 2019, robots were performing the intricate task with but a few human beings present for programming and supervisory roles. Similarly, at Amazon, the world’s largest online mall, volumes of packaging is performed by robots at their numerous warehouses across the United States.

The major tragedy of human beings is that we seem to be using our own brains less and have continually outsourced major functions to machines and computers.

So, let us think about the future of human kind where perhaps you will be able to talk to your computer, like Professor Robert Langdon, in Dan Brown’s latest novel, Origin. Winston is a Supercomputer that runs all manner of errands. Just suppose what it would be like if this computer had capabilities to book flight tickets, buy tickets online to your favorite concerts, order a meal for you from the local restaurant and pay for your dry cleaning. The computer can even send emails and text messages to associates or loved ones on your behalf. Beyond all this, the capacity of the program has a voice and it can talk back to you and make phone calls. Its voice system is such that it can change tone and language to meet the circumstances and it is also plugged into the World Wide Web so it can access information on request and read it to you if you so desire!

On the surface, it appears such supercomputers would render humanity idle and indolent but there is a brighter side to our future in computing: Human beings would be left to solve the world’s most knotty problems: food shortage and nurturing of seeds vital to our continuous and healthy existence would get more attention. Scientists would be able to focus on curing cancer, improving various surgeries conducted on the human body and ensuring that global warming and the Green house effect would not overwhelm humanity since the use of fossil fuels could be reduced to the barest minimum.

Artificial intelligence and robotics and computers have become pervasive in our everyday life. This would become heightened the more in the near future when supercomputers are imputed with vital functions such as drug production, rocket launches, satellite control, planting, harvesting and the processing of food for mankind. But it is important that we keep our hand on the rein to ensure that man remains in control of machines and not the other way around.

So, the question still remains: In the twenty first century, can a robot take your job? The answer, of course, depends entirely on that kind of job you do and the level of indispensability to the organization you work for. There are certain categories of skills that can be easily replaced. Human resources experts have started using artificial intelligence to shortlist candidates for various positions in organizations. Computers have been used to sieve criminals who are being detained, and consider whether they would commit other crimes while on bail. Such concepts as lie detector tests based on the heart palpitations, iris movement and brain waves have been linked up to computers and proven to fail in certain instances. The selection of candidates via artificial intelligence also has its limitations since human beings can present false fronts and get swept up in the maze of selections in error. Reason being the human being has the ability to beat all these patterns and feign the complete opposite of his very being. Then a liar and a thief can put on an innocent mien that would beat the computer and in many cases, the human accessor.

The computer processes that are slowly taking over major functions in our lives are therefore not perfect. Since they were made by human beings, there are bound to be loopholes and flaws in the creation. The Boeing 737 Max Passenger Aircraft is a bad example of what can happen when we handover the control to concepts of artificial intelligence and computers. One of the planes that crashed killing all passengers and crew aboard reportedly went wrong because of malfunctioning software that runs the plane. A similar tragic incident occurred with The Challenger, a space shuttle that exploded mid air before leaving the earth’s orbit, killing all the astronauts on board. There is no way of testing software that is used to run concepts of our every day life to ensure that they are totally free from flaws and glitches. Systems in automated function that are activated via phone calls have also been known to dish out the wrong option on demand; Computer compilations that are made for delivery to various homes based on online orders have been muddled up; Often the systems are unable to differentiate between similar names of locations and identical names of human beings. So, Mrs Jones and another Mrs Jones order a pizza from different parts of the city; if there is no human being to differentiate, each Jones might end up getting the wrong delivery.

The computer processes that are slowly taking over major functions in our lives are therefore not perfect. Since they were made by human beings, there are bound to be loopholes and flaws in the creation.

So, the trick of control is ensuring that at every point in time there is a human on stand by to ensure that the system does not go awry. Keeping our jobs on the other hand involves us upping our skills to the level that we can operate the concepts that are unfolding in our areas of specialisation. So, if I am a Human Resources professional, I should have an idea of how online tests and automated selection of candidates for job positions work. If I am flying a plane that is on auto pilot, there ought to be a manual over ride just in case the computer concept that I am running fails. Super computers might be able to process information faster than the human being, but smart individuals are needed to over see them all.

The major tragedy of human beings is that we seem to be using our own brains less and have continually outsourced major functions to machines and computers. This, in itself, has begun to affect our work ethic. Regular training to update our skills is a necessity in this century. Major organizations have managers who are playing the roles of change agents for the organization.

The function includes preparing members of the workforce for major changes in trends so that they do not occur abruptly. But even in environments where we do not have officers who play this role, it is important for the individual professional to be his own watchman and change agent at once. This would enable him to not just keep his job, but be on the cutting edge of performance in the work environment.

*Ogundadegbe is a renowned management consultant. He trains managers and executives in the arts of Customer Service, Human Resources Management and Management strategy (alexogundadegbe@gmail.com).