Robots Won't Steal All The Jobs -- But They'll Transform The Way We Work

JP Gownder

This morning, WIRED published an article about my new Forrester Big Idea report, The Future of Jobs, 2025: Working Side-By-Side With Robots. You're probably familiar by now with the panic-stricken books (like Martin Ford's Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future) and headlines (HBR's What Happens When Robots Replace Workers?) proclaiming that the future of employment is bleak because of the rise of automation technologies. In other words, the meme goes, robots are taking all the jobs.

By "robots," we mean all forms of automation technologies, including those that conduct physical tasks, intellectual tasks, or customer service tasks (which mix elements of both physical and intellectual activities, but which constitute a distinct category in the age of the customer). Indeed, some impressive new technologies are becoming incredibly useful in a variety of organizational settings. Take, for example, Rethink Robotics' Baxter robot, seen in the video below. Unlike traditional industrial robots, it's safe for workers to be around Baxter -- and it's imperative, too. Because software engineers don't program Baxter; human colleagues simply move the robot's arm to teach it new actions, and it learns in real time.

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IT Is Industrializing – What Does That Mean To Me?

Glenn O'Donnell


Like many movements before it, IT is rapidly evolving to an industrial model. A process or profession becomes industrialized when it matures from an art form to a widespread, repeatable function with predictable result and accelerated by technology to achieve far higher levels of productivity. Results must be deterministic (trustworthy) and execution must be fast and nimble, two related but different qualities. Customer satisfaction need not be addressed directly because reliability and speed result in lower costs and higher satisfaction.

IT should learn from agriculture and manufacturing, which have perfected industrialization. In agriculture, productivity is orders of magnitude better. Genetic engineering made crops resistant to pests and environmental extremes such as droughts while simultaneously improving consistency. The industrialized evolution of farming means we can feed an expanding population with fewer farmers. It has benefits in nearly every facet of agricultural production.

Manufacturing process improvements like the assembly line and just-in-time manufacturing combined with automation and statistical quality control to ensure that we can make products faster and more consistently, at a lower cost. Most of the products we use could not exist without an industrialized model.

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