Monday Mornings with Madison

Remaining Relevant in 2017 and Beyond, Part 2

Many occupations have disappeared due to automation, advanced machinery and computers.  Manufacturing jobs have decreased in number and salary.  Clerical jobs have dwindled as technology has streamlined office processes.   Clean forms of energy have hurt mining and related industries.  Robotics, computer automation and engineering advances will surely put an end to even more jobs such as bon-bon dippers, check writers, finger cobblers, clock hand inspectors, and globe mounters.

Some fear that technology will eventually replace every job and make human labor obsolete.  But consider that technological advances have been pushing people out of job since long before the Industrial Revolution.  This is nothing new.  While technology killed some jobs, those same technological advances created other new jobs.  And while computers and robots can do a great many things, they are also many other things they simply cannot do… and will likely never be able to do.

Obsolete Jobs

Outdated job skills can make or break an employee. A worker with a pertinent skill set may get promoted, receive a raise or even survive downsizing when compared to a similar employee who has outdated abilities.  The advancement of technology and the changes in our society have indeed made many jobs obsolete. Automation has made it possible for machines to do the jobs humans once did – and do them faster, safer, easier, better and more cost effectively.   Here are just a few that disappeared in the 20th century.

  • Copy Boys – ran errands taking newswire teletype reports to reporters’ desks in newspaper offices, and then collected completed articles from reporters and delivered them to the editor.
  • Dictaphone Operators – typed the memos, letters and other documents dictated by executives.
  • Elevator Operators – manually operated elevators, using levers to keep things moving efficiently and properly on the correct floors.
  • Ice Cutters – cut ice out of frozen lakes and rivers up north to be shipped around the country and used in iceboxes, before modern refrigerators were invented.
  • Ice Deliverers – delivered ice to homes when factories started producing ice locally year-round.
  • Lamplighters – lit gas lamp street lights each night, before electric lights became the standard.
  • Lectors – sat on a raised platform in a factory and read to cigar makers while they worked.  Wages were paid using pooled contributions of the workers.
  • Log Drivers – helped guide logs down rivers to move them great distances.  It was dangerous work and they were paid more than the loggers who cut the trees.
  • Newspaper Typesetters – placed individual pieces of type on printing presses in order to create newspaper pages and other documents on a mass scale.
  • Pinsetters – cleared away fallen pins and set up new pins in bowling alleys.
  • Switchboard Operators – connected callers with the person they were calling.  Until the 1980s, switchboard operators still handled long distance calls and took down phone numbers when all circuits were busy.
  • Telegraph Operators – used Morse code to send messages.  Messages had to be interpreted.
  • Typing Pool – consisted of typists grouped together who typed documents all day.
  • Mimeograph Operators – used carbon paper to create copies of a document.  (Think Kinkos Copy Center.)
  • Street Sweepers – manually swept debris and refuse off city streets using push brooms.
  • Sandmen – went door-to-door selling a very fine sand used to help dry the ink on letters
  • Sawyers – sawed wood to different lengths to provide it for those building furniture, fencing, barrows and wagons.
  • Manual Part Loaders – manned assembly lines at automotive factories to load each part into a car manually.
  • Breaker Boys – sorted debris from coal after it was mined and then broke it down into useable sizes.
  • Rag and Bone Men – drove through the streets with a barrow or cart collecting junk from households, before garbage collection began to be handled by government employees

Skills Computers Cannot Do

Don’t let that list worry you.  While technology will likely continue to kill off certain occupations, it will never be able to fully replace humans.  There are many things computers and machines cannot do that are innately ‘human.’  Last week, we examined how computers cannot:

1. Cull or segregate clearly non-relevant information from relevant information.

2. Collaborate or work as a team with “others”.

3. Find a problem or pose a question, which is the cornerstone of all scientific advances.  Scientists’ jobs are protected.

4. Apply morals or values to a situation to determine if something is right or wrong.  Judges and clergy jobs are safe.

Let’s consider more things computers cannot do and will likely never be able to do.

5.  Be Empathic

A computer is not able to have sympathy or empathy for a person.  A computer cannot listen with compassion or offer a hug.  People who work in counseling and therapeutic fields will never be replaced with robots.

6.  Communicate Effectively

A computer is unable to communicate effectively.   While it can be fed all the rules of communication, it cannot actually communicate to convey information in a way that is clear, and then be able to listen to a response to that information and formulate a further response.  Having a conversation or dialogue is beyond the abilities of any computer at this time.

7.  Create or tell a Story

No computer is able to create or tell an original story.  It can read an existing story, but it cannot tell a story based on information gathered or new ideas generated on its own.

8.  Have non-routine interpersonal and analytical interactions

A computer can ask simple questions and then provide assistance based on standard answers.  However, it cannot answer a 911 call, determine what emergency is happening and send the appropriate assistance  It cannot speak to a patient, learn what symptoms or problems the patient is feeling, and determine appropriate care based on the feedback.

9.  Coordinate actions in space

A computer lacks eye-hand coordination and the ability to coordinate actions within a given space.  A robot cannot teach a student how to play a sport or a pupil how to play an instrument.  A computer cannot teach an ice skater how to do a triple sow cow.   Because it lacks the finely-tuned coordination of the human body, a robot will never be able to replicate what humans can do, such as build a bridge or tap dance.

10.  Persistence

A computer does not understand about perseverance or pressing on even in the face of adversity.  Persistence is an innately human quality that no computer can replicate.  A computer can continue to do the same action over and over and get the same results.  Only a human can try to do the same thing over and over – but in slightly different ways — in search of a slightly different result.  That is how scientists have breakthroughs and inventors achieve success after many failures.

11.  Think critically

A computer or robot cannot do critical thinking.  That is because there are two parts of critical thinking.  Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

According to Richard Paul and Linda Elder in The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, a person who is thinking critically:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information — using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively — to come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

If critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking, then it is beyond a computer’s abilities since a computer inherently cannot discipline or correct itself.

12.  Lead

No computer or robot will ever be able to lead a team, department, company or organization.  A  computer’s lack of compassion, inability to make decisions based on values, to have non-routine interactions or communicate effectively all contribute to a computer’s inability to lead.  But that is not all.  Computers are not creative, competitive, courageous, or inspiring.   They aren’t passionate, persuasive or supportive.  For these and many other reasons, computers will never be able to lead; only work.

While technological advances might seem and feel scary, technology will never be able to full replace the need for human interaction, insights, creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing.  Aim for jobs in these fields to safeguard from any possibility of obsolescence in 2017 and beyond.

Quote of the Week

“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.” Emo Philips


© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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