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The Robot Apocalypse

How do we remain relevant and survive the onslaught of technological advances brought about during the 4th Industrial Revolution?

I grew up in the 80’s, a time with relatively little disruption or innovation in relation to what we’re experiencing these days. In those days, I had an important job to do. As the youngest member of the family, I was recruited as the ‘remote control’ for the TV. I still remember rejoicing the day my father bought a new TV that came with a remote control. Gone were the days of me having to walk across the room to change the channel or increase the volume. Technology had finally freed me!

Fast forward 30-odd years, and here we sit in the throes of the 4th Industrial Revolution, faced with an onslaught of technological advances that are moving us forward at a speed that is exponentially greater than anything we ever imagined possible. Technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things, block-chain, robotics, augmented reality and drones are becoming common place in our day-to-day lives.

You’d think that these advances would have us bouncing off the walls with excitement, much like 10-year-old me at the sight of my first remote control. Instead we find ourselves anxious, stressed and scared — worrying about when this technology will take our jobs. It’s a common topic of discussion around workplaces, coffee shops and conferences all over the world.

Much like most folks out there, I’ve been paralysed in this mindset for the past few years. Things are moving so fast that it’s hard to make sense of the change, and even harder to keep up to date with it. It was at this year’s Business Analysis Summit that a few things finally clicked for me.


The Robots Are Coming

Firstly, technology is coming for us, whether we like it or not. Putting out heads in the sand and living in ignorance will leave us no better off than the folks at Block Buster, Kodak or Mozzie Cabs. To a large degree we’re all in the same boat of ignorance here, so we owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to get to grips with advances in technology, and more specifically, to wrap our heads around how it applies to our profession of choice. It may sound daunting, but we don’t really have a choice if we want to remain relevant. I’ve got the ball rolling by setting time aside each week to explore new topics and already the momentum is building as I begin to scratch below the surface.

The Robots Are Our Friends

Secondly, technology is not a binary thing. Well, technically it’s built on binary, but that’s a different topic altogether. Our discussions shouldn’t be about whether or not technology will take our jobs. We should rather be discussing which parts of our jobs we can leverage technology best, to enable us to do our jobs better. There are things that technology can automate, but there are also things that it can’t. Often the tasks that are automatable are the ones that are the most mundane. As a Business Analyst, I’m actually quite excited that technology can probably do a lot of the heavy lifting around compiling requirements documents, ensuring compliance with regulations and doing user acceptance testing. Those are parts of the role that need to be covered, but they’re not exactly the things that get me out of bed in the mornings. Much like with that first remote control, we need to let technology free us up from the mundane tasks that waste our time.

The Robots Need Us

While there are lots of things that ‘the robots’ can do, there are also lots of things that they can’t. They may be great at logic, or sifting through copious amounts of data, but they cannot replace the very things that make us human. Being able to empathize with another person’s point of view, being able to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, being able to facilitate a high-stakes meeting, being creative and innovative. These are just some of the things that the robots spend their charge cycles dreaming of one day being able to do. They can solve complicated mathematical problems, but without direction from us humans, they’re just a bunch of nerdy kids at a Mathematics Olympiad showing off their brain power.

Where Does That Leave Us?

We are literally being pulled apart. On the one hand, we need to embrace the advances in technology and help our businesses understand how to harness them. On the other hand, we need to sharpen our human skills that technology cannot replace. In other words, we need to become more tech-savvy while at the same time becoming more human.

Sounds like a tough ask, but if we don’t take up the challenge, we run the very real risk of fading into obsolescence much like video store clerks, milkmen and elevator operators of old.