Preparing for the Automation of Everything

Reading the financial or technology press, it is easy to come across screaming headlines about how robots and automation are going to eliminate all of our jobs. Whether you work on a factory floor or in the halls of a white-shoe law firm, these headlines argue that the automation of everything threatens to make human work redundant.

This can be a scary proposition. But regardless of whether your job is taken by automation, it is important to think about this trend and prepare for a world in which automation is the standard of work.

Ultimately, as with everything, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that automation, according to McKinsey and Company, will entirely eliminate less than five percent of total occupations. But for 60 percent of total occupations, automation will be able to accomplish about one-third of current activities in those occupations. Therefore, fears of robots and automation entirely replacing a vast swath of occupations is likely overblown. The much more likely scenario is that robots will complement our work rather than take our place entirely.

The bad news, however, is that the automation of everything could significantly impact the middle class, which is a key component to the overall health of the U.S. economy. Retraining these workers will likely be expensive and difficult. And according to the Brookings Institution, skill-biased technical change (like automation) is a significant cause of growing inequality between college-educated workers and other workers. The ripple effects of automation on the overall economy aren’t precisely known, but it is safe to say that it may cause upheaval—just as other technological revolutions have caused.

So what can you do to prepare yourself for the upcoming automation of everything?

There are several steps that you can take. First, take stock not only of your skills, but skills that humans execute better than robots. At this time, humans have better creative skills, social skills, and interpersonal skills than robots. While these may be “soft” skills that are not necessarily related to your job, they can be your hidden advantage.

To the extent possible, you should try to diversify your skill set so that you can leverage these additional “human” skills. Embrace learning and try to be open-minded. By adopting a “learning first” attitude, it is more likely that you will become indispensable at the office.

Like other disruptive events, the automation of everything will undoubtedly affect many parts of our personal and professional lives. However, by embracing this change rather than repelling it, you can ensure that you will be well-prepared for an increasingly automated world. Since these changes appear to be inevitable, it is in your interest to get started today.

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