By Terry Walby, Chief Executive, Thoughtonomy
It’s no secret that when it comes to media coverage, a negative headline will attract more attention than a positive one. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that much of the opinion and rhetoric on the topic of the advancement of automation focuses on the negative impact such technology will have on the public at large, job market, and particularly the need for low-end or less skilled workers.
It’s refreshing, therefore, to read the recently released McKinsey report which provides a more balanced perspective on the subject of workplace automation. The report summarises the analysis of 2,000 distinct work activities to establish the capabilities required in each case – and then assesses the “automatability” (McKinsey making up new words?) of each capability.
Now clearly I have a vested interest, as well as a passionate view, on the ability of current technology to transform working practices. But here’s the summary statement from the folk at McKinsey – “The bottom line is that 45 percent of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology”. Furthermore, they conclude, if technology can improve its ability to understand natural language to the median of human performance, another 13 percent could be added to that total. That median level might sound a stretch – but consider it in the perspectives of both accuracy of understanding and speed of execution and it’s not hard to understand why, for some applications, that level has already been surpassed.
But here’s the other key finding – while almost all jobs can be impacted, fewer than 5% of roles can be completely automated by technology. So what we are experiencing, and will continue to see, is not the headline-grabbing automation apocalypse – with robots removing the need for human workers, but the redefinition of human work activities to balance activity where it is best performed.
Perhaps my favourite observation from the study, though, is the estimation that 20% of a CEO’s working time could be automated using current technologies. As you might expect, as the leader of a business whose total focus is on the delivery of automation technology for business benefit, we at Thoughtonomy are continually assessing our own activities, and any not requiring emotion, subjectivity, or creativity will always raise the question “could a Virtual Worker do that?”
Where many others have focused automation at the low complexity, high volume work, we have a broader perspective. Of course, structured repetitive work performed by large teams is ideal for automation. But increasingly, the automation of lower volume, high complexity activity is proving a compelling use of the Virtual Worker. And yes, that increasingly includes activities I might otherwise have completed myself.
Will automation take our jobs? For the most part, no. Will it redefine them, and will the workplace be a better place as a result? A resounding and wholehearted yes!