Preparing for Automation Technology: Innovating Business Ahead of the Crisis

How one tech CEO is preparing his business for disruptive innovation

Part 1 of 4: The Future is Here

The onslaught of disruptive innovation and advanced technologies are no longer a dream of the future. Right now, dramatic advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are irrevocably changing how we work, learn, communicate, travel, ship goods, and think about technology. So much so, that scientists and tech leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and others are immersed in a heated dialogue as to how these technologies will impact us, and how they can and should be used.

“We’re in a disruption orders of magnitude greater than the Industrial Revolution and it isn’t going to slow down,” agrees Five Talent CEO Preston Callicott. “I’m spending two hours a day reading about it just to keep up. I truly believe the world can be a better place on the other side of this transition, but getting there is going to be messy.”

Which workers will lose out to automation?

The impact of rapid automation is already in full effect. While most Americans are focused on political uncertainties and the daily distractions coming out of Washington DC, the world’s tech companies are innovating at an exponential pace that is radically transforming our economic landscape. New job automation may be vastly improving the productivity (and profitability) of corporations, but it is also costing middle class workers their jobs. Politicians continue to argue about how to bring manufacturing jobs back, but the truth is that robots are replacing those jobs faster than any administration, public or private sector can create them.

The impact isn’t limited to manufacturing. Commercial transportation is another sector facing unprecedented job loss from innovation. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor estimated there were an estimated 4 million professional drivers in the US. These include heavy truck and tractor-trailer long haul drivers, delivery truck drivers, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, and rideshare drivers with companies like Uber and Lyft. In fact, trucking was the most common job in every state in America according to the 2014 Census. Economists and industry analysts believe the arrival of self-driving, autonomous vehicles (AVs) could replace these jobs within a decade or sooner – another disastrous blow to middle class workers already losing ground in manufacturing. And these numbers don’t include the implications of self-driving vehicles on private car use and public transportation.

In the grocery industry, Amazon Go is using deep learning algorithms to eliminate the need for checkout clerks altogether. According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon is planning to build more than 2000 store locations in the next ten years. If other retailers follow Amazon’s lead, retail clerks may eventually be out of jobs. Amazon also uses robots in its fulfillment centers and recently launched Prime Air to deploy drones for parcel delivery. Thus far, these innovations have helped to create jobs within the company. However, there is no question that these technologies will ultimately affect retail employment.

Machine learning and the tech industry

Closer to home, even software developers have cause to worry about the impact of automated machine learning. “Developers aren’t immune from this disruption,” asserts Callicott. “Software is literally learning how to write itself. And that means fairly soon we won’t need people to do coding.” At Amazon’s reInvent conference last December, the company unveiled new advances in machine learning that thrilled developers, but also left them wondering how those technologies will impact their future careers. And just last month the Google Brain artificial intelligence research group announced that it had AI software build a machine learning system that was able to write AI software better than human experts. Researchers are quickly pushing AI beyond the limits of what once was considered impossible.

For Five Talent, the wave of innovation means the learning curve is getting steeper and the need to be on it is more critical than ever. “It keeps me up at night, trying to figure out how to adapt, and how to help our clients do the same,” says Callicott. He praises CTO Ryan Comingdeer as the company’s technology visionary. “Ryan had the foresight to partner early on with Amazon Web Services(AWS) and that partnership has helped us dramatically increase our software development productivity,” Callicott explains. “Honestly, AWS tools are evolving as fast as we can apply them. Partnering with them means we can leverage their cutting-edge expertise and innovate far faster than we could on our own. These disruptive technologies present business opportunities for our clients and learning opportunities for us.”

Creative thinking: the most important skill of the automation age

Making sure his team has the right technical skills is only one way Callicott and Comingdeer are preparing workers for disruption. “We’ve got to become masters at ideation,” says Callicott. “The ability to generate creative concepts and ideas is what separates us from AI. It’s a muscle we need to practice and build every day.”

It’s a sentiment shared among tech and business leaders, including billionaire investor Mark Cuban. In a recent interview with Bloomberg TV, Cuban said: “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering. When the data is all being spit out for you for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data.”

In Bend, Oregon, Five Talent and other local tech companies are addressing softer skill development proactively. Partnering with the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) – the industry is in a robust dialogue about how to foster creative thinking, relationship building, and communication skills among its existing and future workforce. “If you’re coming out of school thinking all you have to know is how to code, you’re wrong,” says Callicott. “We’ve got to get employees thinking creatively about how they’re going to stay ahead of this wave, and give them the opportunities to innovate their own careers.”
In our next three blogs, we’ll take a closer look at the skills your employees need for the automation age, how smart partnerships can keep your business ahead of disruptive technologies, and new concepts for public and private sector integration.

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