Automation is Killing the Knowledge Economy by James Kelly

Still standing at the top of 2016 for only a few more hours, January that is, I’m compelled to follow-up on my outlook on the rise of IoT and setting of the Information Age, with a forecast on the nearer-term workings of automation to slay the knowledge economy as we know it.

The push towards technological automation has allowed us do to more with less. Working in technology, I sell this vision to our customers everyday: better scale, more agility, go faster, spend less OpEx, etc. To be sure, automation has been a boon to business and consumers for a long-time, but it has also been a treacherous progress.

We have long-since been educated on the automation-caused job loss and redundancy to laborers in the manufacturing sector. Closer to home, you may have recently started seeing self-serve queues at your grocery stores. Okay you don’t work in a grocery store. It’s too bad for those poor clerks, but at least you’re safe. You have a university degree, expertise and experience. You work smart, not hard. You’ll be fine. Right?

Wrong! Today’s knowledge worker is dead. Many industries are already disrupted, and if yours isn’t already, it will be.

Today’s knowledge worker is dead.

I’m not talking about automation here in the form of robotics and the physical. Sure we’ve all heard about that dystopian future where robots do everything. Look already at the self-driving cars, or drones now that can deliver your mail, parcels and even coffee. That and more, is all coming too. But what I believe most people don’t imagine, is the redundancy that will soon be created in so-called desk and office jobs.

A good desk job in a nice glass tower and the honor of a white collar (maybe not in Silicon Valley) has been the reward of the knowledge worker for a long time. Today, automation is affecting these people too. However, a lot of these people are also shielded from the blade of automation. Why?

Let me briefly examine people that work in technology, as I do, as an example. A person goes to school to study computer systems, science and engineering, and out comes the quintessential knowledge worker in this space, the “geek” whatever the actual job title. Of those that go on to work closely with technology, in my mind, there are two kinds of these people: technologists and technicians. Sure, knowledge is critical to both of these types, but to the technician it is paramount. The technician is an administrator, operator, and integrator; thus, the technician’s job depends on their expertise and ability. The technologist, however, is a creator, an engineer of the technology that the technician will use.

Understanding the key difference between the technician and the technologist reveals something very important: knowledge alone is increasingly not enough. How can you immunize yourself against automation’s assail?

How can you immunize yourself against automation’s assail?

When automation has reduced the value of knowledge, expertise and ability, the prime determinant of success will be creativity. The technologist is a creator. Naturally, as for all creators, even artists, creativity must be used in service of skill and in the context of expertise. Yes, you still need to go to school to amass all of that knowledge and gain expertise and experience, but now you also need more.

This is why Google recruiters look for what they call “smart-creatives.” That’s why a lot of technical and non-technical desk jobs, the ones where you’re required to be creative, cannot be automated.

Now, is the time to practice being creative. Now is the time to align our education system for this creative future because automation is slowly killing the knowledge economy. Automation is wonderful and wicked, but I know such challenges it will cause, can be overcome with a creative solution.