Apocalyptic claims that certain businesses and professions will soon be wiped out by technology are way off the mark, because they always overlook a couple of key points.
Take for instance a recent article doing the rounds on social media (I can no longer recall the source) claiming to predict the professions most likely to be entirely replaced by technology by 2030.
The majority of them were professional services: lawyers, accountants/bookkeepers, and mortgage brokers.
I, for one, call BS.
Of course, technology is advancing rapidly and causing major disruptions to virtually all industries and businesses. But there are two key problems with such “predictions” of impending doom, which make them little more than unsubstantiated scaremongering:
1. Technology can’t replicate human interactions
Humans are a social creature, and while some technologies can deliver efficiencies and reduce unnecessary interactions, I can’t see us embracing a world where the only human interactions we have are with the families we kiss hello and goodbye at either end of a long working day.
How many of us have a laugh or share a warm smile with the barista at the café as we pick up our morning coffee; shoot the breeze with the owner of our favourite restaurant; or discuss our particular symptoms/concerns with the pharmacist?
I wouldn’t want to be handed a coffee, have meals delivered or be dispensed medications by a robot. And I know I'm not alone in that.
And it is not just the business-to-customer relationship that would suffer. There is a reason that workplaces the world over have embraced open-plan designs: to facilitate communication and engagement between staff.
One business owner I recently had the pleasure of meeting lamented that she really misses the camaraderie of being an employee, as her status as the boss meant she was somewhat detached from everyone else, despite saying they are “like family” to her.
How lonely would it become if workplaces became a space for one: the business owner overseeing a bunch of machines and software programs?
2. Technology is limited by human inputs
The second point is that technology is not some all-knowing superpower with unlimited capacity and understanding. Instead, it operates within the confines in which it was developed, placing on it certain operational limitations.
And then there is the end-user – the customer or client. They are the ones inputting data and navigating the technologies, and are far less well versed in its usage and input demands than the tech developers.
They are prone to making mistakes, omitting or overlooking certain steps in the process, and winding up with an end result that is not ideal for them or not what they wanted.
Take, for instance, the ATO’s tax portals. Supposedly they make like simple for every taxpayer to input their data, and thus eliminate the need to seek out an accountant. But the reality couldn’t be further from this.
The system is clunky, requires mountains of prior knowledge about what you can and cannot claim/report/omit, and – depending on the complexity of your earnings, investments and employment structures – can take many hours to complete in full.
So, who wouldn’t want to outsource this to a specially trained professional, well-versed in tax rules, to take this cumbersome burden off their hands and do a better job in the process?!
The value in services in particular is not so much in knowing something, but in the application of that knowledge to that particular customer’s particular circumstances at that particular point in time.
Another example is the “self-serve” checkouts that have popped up at supermarkets and discount department stores. Are they really all that efficient?
I have lost count of the number of times I have used them only for myself, or someone in the queue in front of me, to be delayed by an error message of some sort. And there have been reports they have actually increased the instances of theft. So who have they actually benefitted?
Just because a technology can do something, doesn’t mean it will do something that best meets the needs of the end-user, whether that be the business or its customers.
Be alert, not afraid
I think the important thing to take away from this is to be alert to the changes occurring in your industry, but not afraid.
Technology is delivering plenty of efficiencies. But it also has its fair share of limitations.
We all have relevance and need in the modern world; it’s simply a matter of knowing where to look to find that relevance and need.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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