AI: They're Heeee-re!
I always frown a little bit when people call me "The Disruptor" or "The Fresh, New Voice on the Scene." Seriously, I just tell the truth. No lube. No sugarcoating. No bedtime story afterward. The truth has become something people fear hearing vs. actually wanting to hear it and using the information to avert disaster or stave off the inevitable for as long as they can. And it's caused alarming levels of complacency and ignorance to the storm that has already aligned its clouds and about ready to unleash a fury like we've only seen once or twice in history. So I'm about to dispense with a little truth that you're not going to like hearing, but is imperative for you to start wrapping your head around so that you can begin making some adjustments to your life to avoid, even circumvent the inevitable. Ready?
In 5-7 years your job will be obsolete. (Read: You WILL be unemployed.)
Since I am and teach Executive Assistants for a living, as short lived as that may be in the next decade, I will use us as an example.
AI, or Artificial Intelligence, makes most of us glass over and immediately tune out. It's the buzz phrase du jour fraught with high level concepts and Engineering-specific language, bandied about by all the dudes with the scraggly beards, ill fitting jeans, quirky message t-shirts, stretched a little too tightly over bodies growing thicker from all that free food and 60-hour, workout-free work weeks. So we ignore, ignore, ignore and assume it's yet another passing fad or innovation that will work its way into our lives at some point. NEWSFLASH, kids. It's the innovation that has already begun to replace you. Computers have had enough time to become better at learning and improving themselves. There are more Engineers on the job. And there is more funding than ever. Code only needs to be copied now. It's free and incredibly efficient.
For example, let's look at the whole driverless car phenomenon. It’s believed that robot cars will improve to the point where humans will actually be banned from driving. In 20 years, 50% of cars will be driverless. They're safer. More efficient. Getting more and more intelligent by the day and will officially be a thing in a very short period of time. Yet you still cringe at the thought, right?
Oh hey, Alexa! What's up, Siri! Wait. Is that Cortana? Hey, girl!
These bots started off as cute, helpful, interactive non-humans to whom you could ask simple questions and get very general answers. Hey, Siri...what's the weather like in Atlanta today? Okay, Google...what's the quickest route to the Bill Graham Auditorium at this hour? They were more novelty than anything and nothing to really write home about. But keep this in mind. The first generation iPhone was released June 29, 2007. I was one of the people who stood in line for over 12 hours waiting to get that phone...and almost every iteration since. Each new version has been smarter, faster and offering more convenience and autonomy than the last. Better materials. Better UI. Better Siri. Now, they're ubiquitous in our lives. Can't live without them. Lest I remind you, that's only 10 years ago, people. 10 years!
Siri and all of its competitors have grown more and more advanced since their inception. Many companies have jumped into the race and created a number of incredible apps that have all but automated most of the processes that comprise an Executive Assistant's day-to-day workload. Sure, they still require a bit of wrangling, but the core functionality is there and it's dialed. And with each new version and release it's displaying an accuracy, reliability and autonomy that eliminates much of the human error, for instance, in calendaring meetings across multiple time zones or booking travel or calculating international shipping rates. And herein lies the dilemma. At what point do we get automated into obsolescence? And can we avoid complete obsolescence by finding a way to leverage these new technologies vs. working against them or pretending they aren't as relevant as we are?
AI is no joke or passing fad. An independent study out of Sydney Australia has already shown than 39% of the job of an Administrative Assistant can be automated...right now. That's almost half of my job! And the crazy part is, I already know it. But unlike many in my community I'm already embracing the fact that my job will not exist in its current form in a few short years. So I'm learning everything that I can about all of these bots and apps so that I can understand how best to incorporate them into my role to free up time to focus on much higher level responsibilities and projects that are highly relevant and have a much more tangible effect on the bottom line for the company and the lives of the people I support. To be clear, I'm staving off the inevitable by finding a whole new avenue of relevance, knowing that my calendaring and travel planning reign is quickly coming to an end. And there ain't shit I can do about it.
I recently spoke at a conference filled with some top flight Executive Assistants. A CEO gave a presentation that included a small section on virtual and digital Assistants. He made a very CEO-like (read: thoughtless) observation that many of these bots can actually do the job of everyone in the room. So...you know how you have that one relative who just can't shut the hell up and eat the damn turkey at the Thanksgiving table? They say that one thing that you wish you could literally fly across the table and physically shove right back into their mouth? That was this moment. Many of the Executive Assistants at this conference were lifers. Me, too. Many, like me, had been in the role for decades and had worked their way up through the ranks from the typing pools of the 80's all the way up to today's Boardrooms. This poor man got an earful! "How dare you think that an app can replace a human being?!" "I'd like to see Siri handle all of the last second changes my boss throws at me every day...AND wash the dishes afterward!"
Needless to say, there was much, um, passion in the room. But it was that type of passion that always makes me a little sad. It's that type of passion that has been hijacked by emotion, with all rationale thrown out the window. It was a gang-up that didn't see the bigger picture at all. It was the type of rush-to-judgment that I always equate to hiding from a truth that you actually already know, but refuse to accept. And, it kinda pissed me off. Here we are, the thought centers for our Executives and their teams. We're the ones who have had to adapt more than any other role in the history of business. Yet, we're not even trying to see the forest for the trees and figure out how to leverage the technologies that are out there to actually save our own asses. I tried to bring a little reason into the room, but the mob was not having it, so I left it alone. But I hit my laptop the moment I got back to my room and started reading up on all these girl-named bots to find out just how long my lunch was secure.
Elon Musk has been hitting the nail on the head of late when talking about AI. And he warns that we will soon be experiencing levels of unemployment that will eclipse the Great Depression. And this will be worldwide, not specific to just Tech or Silicon Valley. He also warns that governments will need to regulate AI's reach and speed so that nations have time to figure out how to handle all of the unemployment that AI will inevitably create. And let's be clear, here. These jobs will no longer require a human being to do them, or certainly less of them. Which means that this wave of unemployment will be lasting and potentially devastating to global economies. He and other leaders (with a clue) are already hinting that governments will need to create some sort of Universal Basic Income or new "Welfare" to handle the astronomical numbers of single-focus, unemployed workers who are destined to be automated out of their jobs. Those are the facts. Let them sink in. And then get to work.
So what should you be doing right now? Couple of things:
1. Find or rediscover a passion.
The one thing that this AI revolution will create is specialists. In fact, it will likely spark an art and artistry renaissance that is long overdue. Tasks can be automated and duplicated. But artistry can't. Computers can't feel. They can only compute the feelings provided to them via an algorithm created by a programmer. They can't play a passionate guitar solo that can make tears roll down cheeks. They can't paint a canvas leaving bits of their very soul in every brush stroke. They can't write a story based on life experience...they have none. Now, more than ever, we need to do an audit of our lives and dust off, reignite or find a new passion that will allow us to shift gears and not be automated into irrelevance. Or we need to save a whole lot of money, downsize like crazy and live within our means as we watch jobs get lost, people scramble, and businesses automate away the very people who helped open its doors. It's coming, people. This ain't no doomsday BS. This is T-minus 5-7 years, and counting.
2. Embrace the inevitable and leverage its strengths.
Innovation = growth. It's been that way since the invention of the wheel, or the combustion engine, or the sandal. The world continues to innovate and find new efficiencies that benefit us all. Unfortunately, we've become so efficient we're about to throw ourselves into a new Dark Ages. I digress. We need to get off Facebook and head on over to Google and learn everything we can about AI and start unpacking it. We need to be proactive in leveraging its strengths, right now, and morph our roles in such a way that we are still in control, but working in harmony with AI. The efficiencies we can create are insane if we'd only study up and figure out ways to leverage it. The more we fight AI the more companies will make assumptions based on the article du jour or "What Elon said..." and begin making sweeping changes and cuts based on reports vs. the employee who invited AI to the party, created 40% efficiency across his team, saved the company $X million, and exponentially decreased time-to-market. Burying our heads in the sand and wishing this away will lead to our demise. And it will come quickly and without warning or severance packages.
Again, I'm not a doomsday forecaster. I'm a realist. And someone who has been in Tech for enough decades to trust my gut and actually be right. Funny story...I designed the pitch book while working at Deutsche Bank Technology Group that eventually landed the Amazon.com IPO. Yep, me! Even then, I had a feeling that Amazon was going to be something incredibly game changing. In fact, I was so compelled that I reached out to Jeff Bezos himself via email and invited him to lunch. He was very sweet and actually wrote me back thanking me for the offer but politely declining as he was "a little overwhelmed these days." My point: AI is already here. And it's a game changer. And not necessarily to benefit all of us. It is something we must accept, understand, and leverage in order for us to stay ahead of the game vs. being consumed by it. Yet, that's still only a short shelf life. We must diversify and expect that our one job today will need to be several specialties tomorrow in order to survive and thrive. Take some time to do an audit of your passions and start kicking those into high gear via classes or side hustle or simply picking them back up. Over the next 5 years you will already be ahead of the game and prepared for the inevitable. Those who are rolling their eyes reading this or writing me off as cray...well, you'll be buying my photography, or purchasing one of my expensive, handcrafted NIX+BOW candles, or wiping tears at one of my vocal performances. And I'll happily take your money and dedicate my new song, "I Told Ya So" to you.