HR Trends

Eat it robots, I'm here to stay

Jorn Vanysacker

VP Marketing at Intuo I'm a strong believer in "VISION" as a base for innovation and future exploration. My entrepreneurial spirit drives my passion in creating great concepts and brands that are aligned with a shared vision, every step of the way

This March, a Japanese company called Fukoku will fire 34 employees. They’re planning to replace them with an artificial intelligent alternative that will never have to eat, sleep or complain. But more importantly: Fukoku’s estimates indicate it will be 30% more productive.

Wow, hate to be in their place! Fortunately, my job is too complicated and specific to be done by AI.
No machine will ever by able to do the things I have to do.

Well, I’m sure the Fukoku workers must have thought the same thing at some point…

How screwed is your future?

Let me paint a picture for you:

On a beautiful autumn morning, an Artificial Intelligent Solution will come around and prove it’s capable of replacing you. Not too long after that, another AI will ping you with the message that you’ve been fired. The security AI escorts you to the front door, and a self-driving car will take you home. You hang up your coat, pour out a drink, only to be interrupted by a recruitment AI:

Hi, hope you had a lovely day. There are -zero- new job openings available for you.

After a while, earning the money to buy whatever those machines produce becomes near to impossible. People start to riot, companies have to build walls to keep the humanoids out, and governments have no idea how to intervene.

Absolute. Mayhem.

So let’s all agree to pick up a pitchfork and give those robots a piece of our mind while we still can afford pitchforks!

I probably should’ve mentioned this at the beginning of the paragraph, but I hope you can all tell this is the “we will all get replaced by robots” school of thought. Aka, the worst case scenario.

How will AI really affect your life and work?

Let’s rewind, from our made-up gloomy future to the actual past.

Our great-grandparents, they wrote letters. Their offspring, on the other hand, got a typewriter and typed. Or they hired a typist if they wanted to get things noted on paper even faster. Me right now, I’m typing this blog post in a cloud-based editor that corrects mistakes on the fly and can make suggestions. It’s not perfect yet, because I can still type silly things things things things and it hasn’t got the slightest clue.

These days, voice recognition can register input 300% faster than I ever could. My natural reaction? I’m grateful for the time and effort I’m saving.

There’s this report that shows 47% of our current jobs will “disappear” in the next 20 years. And while this may sound worrying, research also reveals that for every job “lost” another one or two are created . And we’re not just talking about programming jobs to construct and sustain the artificial intelligence entities.

History shows us that, while several types of industry may vanish, new ones are always going to pop up:

  • The manufacturing workforce grew from less than 12% in 1820 to 26% by 1920 despite automation.
  • The numbers of cashiers have increased since the introduction of barcode scanners in the 1980's.
  • When ATM’s were introduced, the number of bank tellers tripled rather than going to zero
  • Regardless of the fact that online commerce now accounts for more than 7% of retail turnover, the number of people in sales jobs has grown since 2000.


*Even though both The McKinsey Global Institute and Glassdoor research back me up here, my only disclaimer with the before-mentioned references is that the automation took over the doing back then, while now it will be able to take over the thinking as well. But more on that later.

What you can do now, to stay ahead

“Well then. Guess I better take some evening classes and become a carpenter”, you might conclude. But then again, there’s that 3D printer looming around the corner…

I don’t believe we ought to fear and run away from artificial intelligence. What I do believe, is that you should not ignore its existence and growing impact. Find a way to use AI to your benefit now or in the near future. The key to differentiating yourself from “the robots” (and your peers) is first to accept that AI is here to assist you, not replace you. It’s here to empower you, to leverage your strengths, and take over whatever you’d rather spend less time on. Don’t admit defeat just yet, you still have a couple of trump cards up your sleeve.

Both the insightful Josh Bersin and I urge you to (re)focus on the following skills as they are distinctly human, and can outperform AI in the workplace:

  • Empathy: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you do or say something. An algorithm may be able to predict or suggest a possible reaction based on data, but it won’t be able to replicate the emotional attachment with the individual’s feelings.
  • Communication: Truly understand what coworkers mean when they say something (that bothers them). Listen to how you can help them to get where to want to be in life or professionally. Don’t assume or generalise things. That is exactly what an AI would do.
  • Prioritisation: Prioritise decisions in ways that benefit your company (and it's purpose), and make others more successful. Things like motivation and engagement are prone to have a bigger impact than raw analytics in many cases.

And there are many more areas in which humans will always have a step ahead of artificial intelligence.


Go with the artificial flow

Yes, in the short term there might be cases like Fukoku, where people get laid off rather abruptly. And yes, the road of transition will be a bumpy one. Not everyone is naturally gifted at the things that distinguish us from advanced computer algorithms. But even so, good motoric skills and practical minds will always have their place. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a shortage of all kinds of engineers right now. We have to rely on our education and employment instances to make the right decisions and evolve alongside the influence AI has in our society. Ironically, one of the best ways to help us track this evolution and gather valuable date… might just be from AI induced analytics programs.

A powerful expression that helps me to cope with the feeling of cluelessness is the realisation that “everyone is winging it.” Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Elon Musk — you name ’em — they’re all taking things as they come, and figuring it out along the way. The people that wing it and learn to operate in changing environments or even change the environment itself, making the fear of change non-existent over time.

So in all fairness, no one knows exactly how things will pan out for you. One thing is for sure though: AI is happening, and it’s happening because of you. All I would say is:

Wing it and stay hungry!

After all, your computer might know of all ingredients in existence, but it will never know how to cook and enjoy a great meal.


First published on Jorn's Medium account.