The Future Is Boring And Predictable

.. at least if we go to where the so called 'futurists' are taking us

The Boring Collection: Lensvelt's deliberately drab furniture

I am really disappointed by the lack of thinking by people that write and present about what the future of ‘jobs’ might be. Is our future really just a simple extension of where we find ourselves today, with no thought of the wider issues?

For example, creative jobs, coding jobs, accounting jobs, manufacturing jobs being lost in the Western world is not the same as them being lost altogether. Ask people in China, Romania, India, The Philippines … but let’s put that aside.

Let’s consider ‘Western Jobs’. Disappearing jobs seem to be a combination of the obvious ones … taxi drivers (because of course autonomous cars are going to be moving through our cities, no need for drivers), or travel agents, cashiers and bank tellers because - well automation. (Why would you need a travel agent? You just hop onto the web and compare your prices and commit - no darn travel agent needed.) It must have been the kind of thinking that Travis and his buddies had when they came up with Uber - I need to get from A to B. It’s a transaction.

I think these ideas miss the point of humanity, experience, emotion, discovery and so many more things that make us human. Automation does indeed make the transactional aspect of travel very easy, but it does nothing about the added value of the service. That is why travel agents are in fact in great demand (just check out the job boards) and why I am wondering about the death of the taxi driver.

With this in mind, rather than just read that which comes through my ‘highly tuned feeds’, I decided to undertake some in-depth research.

My methodology was highly sophisticated. I booted up the computer and googled for three different phrases and variations on same.

* Jobs that are disappearing    
* Important Skills For The Future   
* Jobs of the Future
     
I found articles from which I could extract lists and headlines to create a table. I wanted to have at least 100 entries for the three categories and rather than shortening the lists by removing repetition, e.g.cashier(s), I left them in to create a visually dominant block. I primarily visited sites maintained by magazines, consulting/research companies and futurists.  

I also ensured as much as possible that the articles were about these times and as far as possible - jobs that are coming up … although somehow roles like holoportation specialist and artificial organ farmer did manage to get on the list!

With all that done - you can start to tabulate. The final product looks exactly like this.

Random Observations

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There is clear agreement on certain jobs that are going away (although you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that taxis and dispatchers are under threat! ) That said, the caveat above holds.

We seem to be mixed on whether ‘Accountants and Auditors’ are going away .. but I think that might go down to which geography we are talking about. For example, if you live in America then the role of a basic tax accountant is harder to hang onto. But if you live in India - it isn’t, because that is where those jobs have been moving to since Friedman wrote ‘The World Is Flat’.

A solid 50% of the jobs of the future are either in technology or healthcare. Again, in line with what you hear and read over and over again. Just like the skills of the future we read that we will need strong cognitive skills, high EQ and creativity and solid representation in that middle column.

Seems that a chief productivity officer is going to be a thing - but a chief ethics officer … not so much. Now that is distressing!

I didn’t expect to see ‘farmers’ on the ‘extinct’ jobs list, I assume they mean farm labourers, but we still need food to be produced - but in ‘jobs of the future’ no mention of urban farmers, aquaponic or hydroponic farming, underground farming, even farming cooperatives … nothing!

And all of this gets to another problem. Some of the articles seemed to rehash others, so the same terms ‘crop up’ (if you will pardon the pun). Exercise - google for the term “Artificial Organ Farmer” and up come many articles with that term that are essentially what Business Insider originally wrote (note it’s only once on my list - because I was mentally excluding articles that were ‘remixes’). You can tell because in any of those remixes, notice how another job more often than not included ‘robotics veterinarian’ - another job called out on Business Insider in the original piece.

Why I Take Issue

There are many. Here are a few …

  • The skills gap between the jobs we can see we are losing and the jobs we can see are likely is very big- how do we plug it?

  • The jobs identified are all based on assuming that we are on a specific trajectory into the future. We are not.

  • There is little original thought revealed as to the real possibilities.

  • There is no context for how those jobs will exist.

  • There is no thought as to how an existing job can exist in the future, even if elements of it are automated.

  • We constantly read how automation of jobs will allow more time for us to explore the humanity of our added value - but no future job analysis builds on that or profiles examples.

  • The new jobs called out are just new jobs. How exactly does a new job in ‘artificial organ farming’ relate to the point we keep emphasising that it is our humanity, experience, emotion, discovery and so many more things that make us the people we are and that will keep us employed. Just think about ‘Artificial Organ Farming’, if it really is going to be a thing, don’t you think it will be pretty much automated from day one?

  • 5% of the jobs of the future distressed me considerably. Tasked with writing about what future jobs are likely to be, some hack’ basically wrote ‘etcetera’. My vote says that kind of journalism (I use the word loosely) should definitely be on the extinct list.

  • So much technology, so no need for future skills in morals or ethics?

  • ‘Jobs lost’ is not binary. Example; truck drivers are definitely under threat, but in the short term, it’s a specific kind of truck driver - in the US for example, likely the drivers who clock up 1000s of miles on the Interstates will go first, not the ones weaving through our cities, reversing down tight allies and delivering produce to small markets.

  • No job is safe. People often reference a hairdresser as being safe from robotics and AI. If you go into hospital for brain surgery, the chances are that at least part of that operation will be conducted by a robot and maybe even remotely. Why are hairdressers safe? Again - not all of them - but if I can save 50% of my hairdressing bill by going to ‘Robocuts’ (darn the URL is gone) - the new competitor to Supercuts, I think I just might.

  • Most of the sources for this information came from sites of analysts, futurists, newspapers, magazines et al. Given the lack of creativity demonstrated in the articles, not to mention the ‘in-your-face plagiarism, it is clear that creativity and critical thinking (that themselves account for 20% of the skills identified that we need for the future) are not part of that discipline. And we wonder why reporting and journalism are dying!

I could go on … but you get the drift!

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Next Week’s Newsletter explores where I think we could go. Could mind you … not will. We have many potential futures.

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