We Are All Replaceable…But…

Mothers lie to their daughters!

Now they may also lie (Alright, it may not be a “lie-lie” but just a foolish statement said with the best of intentions) to their sons, I have just not heard or experienced it. And fathers may do it as well. For me it has always been daughters, young and old, and mothers, never fathers. They actually believed it when their mothers told them, “You are special. You are unique. You are irreplaceable.” And they are truly shocked when they discover that they are neither special, nor unique and are most definitely replaceable. We are all replaceable. But…

The most difficult searches I have ever had have all been for what I call “second spouses.” Typically I am contacted by someone who says they need an “executive assistant.” They provide an accurate job description, which clearly lists the qualifications. I find candidates who meet all the mandatory qualifications and most, if not all, of the preferred. I interview and submit them. Then the phone rings:

Bruce, good job! But there’s something missing. They’re not the right fit.

The client is not being difficult. They simply cannot articulate that intangible quality they need. They are hiring a confidant. They are hiring someone they will be with eight hours a day, if not more, and maybe even on weekends. Thus my classification that they are looking for a “second spouse.” They are hard to find.

But this article is not about my most difficult search, it’s about the second most difficult. Those are the ones where the employee being replaced, usually through no fault of their own, has been with the company “forever.”

Allow me to digress, which I usually do…

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Bomber Mafia. (Short read. Excellent read!) On page 47 he writes,

“The psychologist David Wegner has this beautiful concept called transactive memory, which is the observation the we don’t just store information in our minds or specific places. We also store memories and understanding in the minds of people we love. You don’t need to remember your child’s emotional relationship to her teacher because you know your wife will; you don’t have to remember how to work the remote because you know your daughter will. That’s transactive memory.”

(If you are thinking of Googling “transactive memory” add “psychology” or you will drown in a sea of [at least for me] incomprehensible IT babble. My advice, in either case, it to accept Gladwell’s definition/description and get on with your life!)

Transactive memory is why trying to replace a veteran employee is so difficult. There’s no problem finding someone with the skill set. There’s no problem finding someone with all the qualifications, maybe even the preferred ones. But that employee, in one very important sense, is truly irreplaceable. Stored in their brain is history. Stored in their brain are all the things the boss did not want to store in his – the transactive memories. They know why you should never suggest doing A, and must always do B. They know why you never ask C about D and why you should always mention E to F, but never when G is around. They know why you must never use H as a vendor, and why I always has to be used.

I could continue until I exhaust both the English and Greek alphabets, but you get the idea.

The issue here, actually, is not the employee or the candidate, it’s the employer. They have to realize, and accept, especially if the employee who is being replaced is not available to answer their replacement’s questions, that the replacement will not, cannot, and cannot be expected to have their predecessor’s transactive memories. That person holds between their ears a vast depository of knowledge. What’s more, they probably don’t even realize that they know what they know.

I once was hired to be the assistant to the director of a small children’s mental health center. We shared an office. One day, a donation arrived. I filled out the bank form and prepared the receipt for the boss’s signature. She watched me. When I handed her the receipt, she asked me, “What about the book? You didn’t record the donation?”

I looked at her, puzzled, and asked, “What book?”

She was shocked. My replacement had never told me about the book, the book in which all donations were to be recorded. So I called her. She apologized, told me where it was, and I updated it. She did not intentionally not tell me. (I know; a double negative!) For her, it was so obvious, that she simply and honestly did not think of it.

That’s a simple and innocent example of what happens when memories are not shared. This was not a transactive memory. It was something she knew very well and had just forgotten to tell me. So just imagine how much information is stored in the brain of that veteran employee who, despite their best efforts, cannot possibly share it all.

Why is this so difficult? Because the employer has to accept the fact that no candidate will have the knowledge base to replace the veteran employee. Skills, yes; knowledge, no. It is simply impossible. And, sometimes, the new hire does not last long because the employer is frustrated that the new hire does not know what they, the employer, wants or needs them to know. So, in some ways, some people are irreplaceable (at least for the short term).

Be the Bearer of Bad News

I have been a recruiter since 2003. I always, repeat ALWAYS, call candidates to let them know their status. For sake of argument, let’s say I submit five candidates for every position. Except in a couple of cases, where the client decided to hire two candidates because they could not choose between the “final finalists,” for every search I have done I have had to deliver bad news to at least four people. Clearly, I have made hundreds of “Sorry, but they have decided not to continue with your candidacy” calls. Maybe even a thousand. I don’t know. But I do know that in all this time I have only been yelled at once by a rejected candidate.

The impetus for this article was a call I just had with a candidate who my client rejected. It lasted five minutes. The man did not stop thanking me. He was grateful for the call. He told me that I was the only recruiter who called him back. (That is something I hear often and have experienced myself which, among other reasons, is why I do not like recruiters!)

So why do I make these calls? It is the polite thing to do. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the phone. It’s the right thing to do. But it is also something that my first boss taught me.

As a student I had a job at the School for Overseas Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I worked in Admissions. We were being computerized. The boss gave me responsibility for filling out the IBM data cards. (Remember Number 2 pencils?) It was a lot of work and I finished with a little time to spare.

I went home, proud of myself…until I woke up at 2 AM in a cold sweat realizing that I had made a huge error and would have to redo all the work. I had enough cards; I didn’t have enough time.

I got to the School at 7 AM when the gate to the building was opened. I immediately went to my office, turned on the lights, confirmed that I had, in fact, messed up big time, and got to work.

Around 8:00 the boss arrived. He saw the lights were on and came to the office. He asked what I was doing here so early (the guard had told him I had arrived at 7:00). Shaking, I stood up, apologized, said I realized at 2:00 that I had made a mistake, I knew that the work had to be submitted the next morning. I told him I would skip my classes and get everything done that day.

He told me that I would NOT skip my classes and that I would get the work done as soon as possible. I reminded him of the deadline. He told me that that was his problem, not mine, and to get the job done as quickly as possible, but not to miss my classes. He told me, “I have your back.”

The next day, after attending all of my classes, I completed the work and went to his office and told him. Then I waited to be fired.

He asked me what I was waiting for. I told him. He said, “I never fire anyone who delivers bad news. You made a mistake. You told me. You had a plan to correct it. I never fire anyone for making a mistake. I only fire people who make excuses and who do not take responsibility for their actions.”

Best boss ever! And that is why, in all my jobs, I always make sure that when there is bad news to deliver, I deliver it. That also eliminates the problem of someone else, who may not exactly like me (Yes, there are people like that!) delivering the news inaccurately and with a spin against me and in their favor.

In that regard, I remember once discovering that something had gone terribly wrong. The details don’t matter. A colleague, a rival, found out about it and went running to the boss, salivating at the thought of my imminent dismissal. He, and the boss, came to my office. The boss asked me what had happened and why I had not told him about it. I said, “It was an easy fix. I took care of it. There is no problem and nothing to bother you about.” My rival was gone by the end of the week…

So the moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to be the bearer of bad news. You’d be surprised how many people appreciate it. You might even get a promotion or keep a client because they appreciate your honesty and problem solving abilities.

Sure Bet Jobs in the Age of AI?

University Degree (Debt) Not Required!

In a previous article, I addressed the issue of the automation of the hiring process. I now want to look at what automation, or in today’s lingo AI – Artificial Intelligence – and it’s sibling – AGI – Artificial General Intelligence, will mean for employment opportunities in the coming decades, as well as industries not strictly technological in nature. In other words, what are the safe bets for choosing a career in the foreseeable future? What is nice about this is that, what they all have in common, to one degree (pun intended!) or another, and with only two exceptions, is that they do not require an academic degree and will free the employee of the future from the burden known as “student debt.”

(One thing to note, I always advise college students to minor in, and now I would advise non-college students, to actually go to their local community college and take some courses in, English. Regardless of your profession or industry, you will not be able to advance in your career unless you write and speak English well. And while people may want, and are in fact welcome, to argue with other statements I make in this article, that one is not open to debate.)

Military and Semiconductors

The mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans. I believe in my mission because we have a volunteer military and no one will volunteer, except those planning a career in the military, unless they have a reasonable expectation of employment following their discharge from the Service. And we need a strong military now more than ever.

The United States faces a grave and lethal threat from China. Think about it. If it is true, and I believe it is, that the coronavirus was an accident, unintentionally brought upon humanity by the Chinese, then the Chinese now know how to intentionally do it. They also know that they faced absolutely no ramifications of any significance (I can’t even think of an insignificant one!) for not having immediately informed the world of the existence of the virus. So they see the world (read: West) as weak.

Second, and now I am truly dusting off my doctorate in International Relations, a country that will not defend its own borders may be assumed to be unwilling to defend foreign borders. Russia got away with Crimea, literally, because it was not a vital national interest of the US. China may think, rightly or wrongly, that President Biden, unwilling to defend our southern border, may not be willing to defend Taiwan which is now in danger of invasion because of a world-wide shortage of semiconductors, which are most definitely a vital US national interest.

The shortage today centers around chips for cars, each one of which has thousands of microchips to monitor everything that happens inside, and to a certain extent, outside of the vehicles. The largest manufacturer of microchips is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. China wants the company. After all, no one can deny that China always prefers to take rather than create! China, a major consumer of microchips, wants to be as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to their manufacture. Taking Taiwan would help them achieve that goal and, as importantly, deny their competitors (read: the US and EU) access. The US, probably in response to China’s military activities, not the coronavirus, is limiting the sale of high-tech products to the Communist nation which is trying to recruit semiconductor experts from around the world.

That may be why Beijing has ramped up military harassment and diplomatic pressure on the Taiwan. Ironically, Taiwan is “heavily reliant” on China when it comes to the production of the chips and their supply chains. Nevertheless, China does not want a piece of the pie; it wants the whole pie. And not only does it want to be self-reliant, so does the US. Intel is reportedly planning a $20 billion investment in new chip factories, meaning jobs and lots of them. But Taiwan does not want to give up its leadership position and is willing to invest $43 billion to keep it and, no doubt, to defend itself from the mainland.

Semiconductors are not just important for cars. They are critical across many industries, those that exist today and those planned for the future (read: AI and AGI). In fact, you could probably say they are the oil of the twenty-first century. Countries have gone to war over oil. Trying to block China’s ability to manufacture semiconductors, or to limit that ability, is reminiscent of US actions against Japan which led directly to their alliance with Nazi Germany. We all know what happened when the US tried to turn off the oil spigot to Japan, as well as its access to other resources. How far will China be willing to go to realize it’s goal of making this century the Chinese Century just as the previous century was the American? Add Iran to the mix, not to mention North Korea, and the fact that China and Iran just inked a $400 billion 25-year deal, and there are a few things to keep world leaders (and the rest of us) up at night, including whatever it is Russia is planning for Ukraine.

All of which means that perhaps the most important branch of the military with be the Space Force. More than likely the next battlefield will be cyber. There’s no better place to learn cybersecurity than in the military and, as I will get to shortly, cybersecurity is the best bet for future employment. But first, let’s go old-school.

The Trades

A few years ago the Number One job in metropolitan New York City was, of all things, welders. You could not find a welder to save your life. (Previously, it was nurses – for which a college degree is most certainly required!) Currently, I am sitting at my desk, looking out my window at the apartments across the street, seeing a sight that I see every two to three weeks. A silver van is parked in front of the building. It belongs to a plumbing and heating company. Soon, they will open the back doors of the van, get out the “snake,” open the drain and remove the clog. I once asked them why they could not fix the problem. They told me the problem was not the plumbing but the people flushing things that are not supposed to be flushed.

We will always need plumbers, carpenters and electricians. Anything that can break, as long as it is more cost effective to fix than replace, will require a human being to fix it. So the non-glamorous jobs may be a solid bet for steady employment. (They may also be the only union jobs still in existence.)

Private Security

Before we get to cybersecurity, let’s stay old-school.

With the diminution of police forces across the country, people are scared. If you cannot trust the police to pull the trigger because they are afraid of being sued or attacked, they have been castrated. After all, if a White police officer is criticized for killing a Black woman who was literally about to stab another Black woman to death, what’s next? You can’t blame them for retiring, quitting, or others not signing up for service. To be honest, they’re right to think, it’s not worth it.

That being the case, many communities, neighbors, may band together to hire private security forces. Who would not be willing to pay $5 a day to make certain that their family and property are safe? And, if enough people join together, that’s all it would cost. The wealthy will certainly do it. Starting a private security company, and working for a private security company, may be a sure bet for long-term revenue and employment.

Enough old-school…

Cybersecurity

As already stated, the easiest sure-bet job to predict is cybersecurity. The more we are dependent on the Internet, the more protection we will need. Cybersecurity will be the Number One job for the foreseeable future.

(For the following, I rely heavily on Guy Perlmuter’s book, Present Future: Business, Science and the Deep Tech Revolution. Page numbers refer to the e-book edition. The quote I like most is, “The entire history of civilization is all about change – and, more than that, about technological change. This is what defines us as a species, this is what propels us forward.” [Emphasis in original. p. 19] Words to remember.)

Services for the Aged and Aging

But not everything is high tech. Just over 16% of the US population is over 62. (While writing this article I heard on the news that more adult diapers are sold in the US than those for children! Not surprising since it has been the case in Japan as far back as 2013.) The average age of the US population will continue to grow, but that also means that the number of people in the work force will decline. Immigration could change these numbers, but let’s say, for sake of argument, that on average the population gets older and the work force gets smaller.

That’s all good news. An older population means jobs which cannot be done by anyone/anything other than humans: home health care immediately comes to mind, along with nursing homes, assisted living facilities and supportive housing. Jobs in these sectors, services for seniors, are a safe bet when thinking about the future. There is no doubt that longevity will become a trillion dollar business (p.114).

And if the work force is getting smaller, that means automation will not be taking jobs away from people. The people won’t be here. The automats, if you will, will truly be supplementing what we humans will be doing. This is nothing new and neither is the hysteria of “the rise of the robots.” My favorite example, which I wrote about in my previously mentioned article, is the ATM. Remember when they first appeared? The doom-sayers predicted the end to jobs in banking, especially tellers. What happened? Smaller banks, by which I mean branches, but more of them. So ATMs did not result in fewer bank jobs, but more. And, in addition, because of the need for more branches, construction jobs were created.

Information Management

I do not mean this necessarily in the historic IT sense of the term. Here I am referring to access to Big Data, massive amounts of data that can help to predict what is going to happen in the future.

The example I like most is true but I don’t know which specific incident is actually true; they both may be. There are two stories I have heard and read, basically the same, but slightly different.

Using the data they had accumulated over the years, Target felt it could predict the future buying patterns of its customers. Based on her buying patterns, Target started sending coupons related to pregnancy and newborns to a school girl whose father, to say the least, was not amused. He went to his local Target and expressed his displeasure in clear terms. A few days later he had to admit that Target got it right. (p. 317).

Or, and here’s the second version, a woman who had been trying to get pregnant for some time, was highly offended when she read a congratulatory message on the top of her Target receipt about her pregnancy. She too was taken aback and expressed her displeasure in clear terms. I don’t remember if she returned to apologize but she was, in fact, pregnant. Target knew it before she did.

Which story is correct, does not really matter. They both may be. The important thing is, Target got it right. How many companies, based on pattern analysis, would like to be able to predict what prospective and current clients/customers will need? Answer: All of them. Learn how to use Big Data and I am confident that you will have a job for life. There will always be a need for great decision makers.

To be a great decision maker, you need data. Great decisions are based on facts. The suppliers of facts will always be needed. Yes, computers can supply facts. Anyone who has ever used Google knows that. But they cannot provide an analysis of those facts. They could report that a billion sources say “X” while only a few million say “Y,” but that does not mean that either is correct. It takes, and will always take, a human to make that determination. Unless or until the impossible happens, and an algorithm is created that actually replicates the human brain, no computer can be a great decision maker. Beating a human at chess, Go, or Jeopardy! does not a decision maker make!

In this vein, Perlmuter states (pp. 55-56): “The use of subjective judgment, emotional intelligence, and adaptability to unexpected situations are emerging as important characteristics for the employees of the future since these are features that are quite uniquely human and will very likely not be replaced by a machine for the foreseeable future. … And there is no doubt that much more is on the way – including new careers that simply don’t exist yet or have not yet become relevant – as technology creates the need for new tasks and unexpected, promising specializations.”

It is natural that all this talk about technology scares some people. It also reassures others. But the fact of the matter is, as I quoted above, technological progress is nothing new. It has always happened and we have always survived. Most people, if asked what the most important invention of all-time was, would probably say the wheel. They would be wrong. The invention that had the greatest impact on civilization was the steam engine (p.23). That was once the technology. Anyone reading this afraid of a steam engine? (Just remember, don’t get too close, the steam can burn you!)

Perlmuter predicts (p. 27) that “even more new jobs, careers, companies, and empires will be created. Others will disappear or evolve into something completely different.” This brings me to, of all things insurance.

Insurance

I am certain that before long the insurance companies will miss the good-ole-days of ships sinking in the oceans, aircraft crashing to the ground, cars colliding, and buildings burning. Life was simple. Not anymore – or not in the coming future.

I’ll give you one example: Autonomous vehicles (AVs).

AVs, be they cars, trucks, vans, buses or anything else moving people or things from place to place without a human sitting behind a wheel, are driven by AI-powered computers. In other words, there is no driver (or, in the case of drones and planes, pilots). The AV gets into an accident. Who pays? The owner of the vehicle? The manufacturer of the vehicle? The maker of the software? The designer of the algorithm that made the software possible? The government(s) that permitted the vehicle to be on the road, in the air, in the first place? Someone has to be held responsible or, to be more precise, liable. But who?

Perlmuter thinks it is going to be the vehicle manufacturers (p. 41), but he also believes owners will still need insurance for theft and damages caused by natural disasters.

I am certain there are other examples, but you get the idea: When humans are removed from the equation, when they are no longer the active party causing the bad thing that happens, who pays? Will personal or professional liability insurance become things of the past? If companies, manufacturers and algorithm designers are the culprits, why would Joe and Jane public buy anything but life, disability and health insurance? And given all the sensors (more on those in a moment) that will be in our homes to prevent fires and break-ins, who’s going to need fire and theft policies? If the sensors don’t work, won’t the manufacturers or the companies providing the service be held liable?

Bottom line: The insurance industry is going to get very interesting and “very interesting” usually means trouble. (Never forget the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”) On the other hand, “trouble” usually means jobs.

Technology is already having an impact on insurance. For example, when I owned a car, I had a policy that allowed me to pay by the mile. The more I drove, the more I paid. There was a little sensor that I plugged into the outlet which mechanics use to diagnosis the engine, and it sent information on my mileage to the insurance company. Every month I paid a different amount, but it was always substantially less than what I had previously paid with a traditional policy.

That was a few years ago. Today the sensors not only can report mileage, but also driving habits. Do you make last minute sharp turns? Slam on the breaks? The insurance company will know. How they will know if it was your fault or someone else’s I do not know, but there are now Pay As You Drive and Pay How You Drive policies, all thanks to technology (p. 42).

Electric Vehicles

In this case, the future is truly here, at least as regards the fact that cars, for years now, have been computers on wheels and mechanics have had to learn to be just as much computer engineers as mechanics. It’s a great example of technology not costing anyone their jobs and the right way, slowly, incrementally, to teach new skills to seasoned workers. It’s none of this nonsense that, seemingly overnight, someone who was employed building pipes to move fossil fuels will be able to build solar panels by the end of the week. There is a right way and a wrong way to retrain workers. Computerized vehicles is an example of the right way. But they are not, necessarily, electric.

No matter; electric vehicles will provide a plethora of new jobs:

The obvious job creator for electric cars are the manufacturers of the batteries and the charging stations which will make them practical transportation vehicles. This means an entire new way of charging batteries and building roads. “Highways could have a lane that transmits power to the vehicle, and areas near traffic lights in cities may be outfitted with charging stations under the asphalt.” This is not science fiction. It “is already being tested” (p.43).

So think of the jobs: Creating new asphalt. Creating new wireless charging mechanisms. Creating new ways of paving streets. And, when something goes wrong, a new way of removing the asphalt, fixing whatever broke, and repaving in an economical way which does not lead to extended street closures. (And, dare we hope, an end to pot holes!)

Being a Connector

What do Airbnb, Facebook and Google all have in common? They “connect the consumer with services or products” (p. 45). Amazon, of course, does it as well. And as everything is now “on demand,” there is no need for inventory. So, getting into warehousing, not a good idea. But coming up with a way to provide consumers with what they want, when they want it, and knowing in advance what that thing will be, good idea (big data returns!).

Think of all the things we never knew we needed until a company created it and convinced us we could not live without it. The car. Horses had been good enough for centuries. True, in urban areas they were causing a major health hazard (tons of manure having to be removed from the streets every night) but, still, no one had thought they needed a “horseless carriage” until Belgian engineer Jean-Joseph-Etienne Lenoir invented it in 1863, with Messrs. Benz and Ford subsequently taking the invention and running with it.

And what about this crazy typewriter I am using now. I was perfectly happy writing my Master’s thesis on my IBM Selectric with its changeable fonts. (Greatest typewriter every made!) In fact, my professor had to goat me (I wonder if that is now a politically incorrect expression. If it is, I apologize profusely to the Capra aegagrus hircus community.) into buying one of those new fangled personal computers with its word processing software. (For the record, Word Perfect was far superior to Word! Just goes to show, there will always be work for good marketers!) Today, I literally cannot write with pen and paper. I can’t write without a keyboard. And, like most of you, I am dependent on this thing for everything from communicating with friends and colleagues to balancing my checkbook.

And let’s not forget the so-called smart phone. When did we ever need to be in constant contact with the world? But now, not only do we need to be reachable 24/7, there are apps on the phone that we cannot, figuratively or literally live without.

These are all inventions creating demand that no one thought about but that we now cannot live without. And all of them can be utilized by smart people to create new dependencies and new jobs. Think food and other delivery services, for one. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Business creation means job creation.

Of course, there is another type of connector which will be in high demand: sensors for the Internet of Things. With every electronic device communicating with every other electronic device in our homes, cars and offices, someone is going to have to build, install, monitor and repair them. It is estimated that there are currently some 30 billion such units in existence today, and that the number “could exceed 75 billion by 2025” (p.79). And you know what they say, “Ten billion here, ten billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real numbers!”

And please, don’t buy into the foolishness that IoT and sensors on everything is “Big Brother” watching you. Technology is a good thing and sensors are a great example. They can “safely and preemptively track the maintenance schedule of any given piece of equipment” (p.83). Don’t you want to know in advance if the doo-dad on your thingamajig needs to be replaced or the whatchamacallit at the powerplant (green or not) is about to fail? And, as I’ll get to shortly, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on inside of you!

Energy

Don’t worry, I am not about to add to the “climate-change-world-coming-to-an-end” hysteria. (Dear Haters: Before you write a nasty comment, I believe that climate change is real. I also believe that throughout human history, whenever faced with a threat or danger, human beings have come up with a technological solution which made life better. I believe in the genius of humanity, not just their stupidity.) Continuing our discussion of sensors, technology can save us energy. We all know that. We have been buying appliances with “energy efficient” labels on them for decades. But the entire system can become energy efficient, regardless of the source of the energy and, at the same time, creating real jobs.

It’s called a “smart grid.” This refers to “an electrical grid that uses sensors to better measure, dispatch, and control energy.” It “involves the installation of new meters and household energy storage systems” (p.85). Someone has to build, install and monitor these devices.

Medical Devices

As noted a moment ago, it is not only our homes and businesses that can benefit from sensors, we can as well.

“Our bodies are being integrated into the IoT structure via the wearables industry market; according to the firm Grand View Research, this market sector reached more than $32 billion in 2019 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of almost 16% until at least 2027” (p. 95). In other words, more jobs and not just silly things that count the number of steps you take in a day but important things like meters that show your glucose levels. (Yes, walking, exercise, is important. But does your life depend on knowing the exact number of steps you have taken? I think not.) Moreover, these sensors can monitor things that are happening in our bodies so we can deal with medical problems before they become problems.

For example, literally fresh off the press (as I received this while completing this article), psychiatrists can now use an app to help them diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders. It brings together “classical psychiatry with computational neuroscience.” Jobs created by technology, not lost.

Related to healthcare devices are human replacement parts. Need a heart valve? No problem. We’ll just print one using our 3-D printer. “Human organ transplantation using the patient’s own cells offers stunning possibilities as it eliminates the risk of rejection and the need to wait for a matching donor.” This is a business predicted to grow to the $35 billion dollar level in just three years. (p.121)

Healthcare Professionals

Just to make it clear, medical devices will not replace medical professionals/healthcare workers. They are tools, nothing more, nothing less. “In the 2006 report Working Together for Health, the WHO indicated a global shortfall of over four million professionals, especially in the poorest regions of the world” (p.96).

Healthcare is a thriving business. “According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent population health research center at the University of Washington, global expenditures in health care went from $780 billion in 1997 to $7.9 trillion in 2017—a 10-fold increase in 10 years” (p.98). This does not just mean physicians and nurses, but technicians, therapists, home health aids, literally anyone involved with the prevention and treatment of, or recovery from, injuries, diseases and disorders. Which brings me to CRISPR, which, for present purposes, simply means altering DNA and RNA.

Genetic Reengineering

This article is long enough, so, suffice it to say that we now have the technology to use genetic material “to cut out the virus and neutralize it,” (p. 105) or, put differently, we can now remove genes that are bad for us or we don’t like from our DNA and RNA (I think) and thus eliminate them. We can edit the building blocks of our progeny and maybe even change our own (although that part I am not certain about).

You already have four daughters and want the fifth child to be a boy, no problem. Find the proper sequence to add that Y chromosome and, voila, you have a boy. Have four sons and want a girl, find the proper sequence to remove that Y chromosome an, voila, you have girl.

Assuming the gene or genetic sequence that causes homosexuality is discovered, and you don’t want your child to be homosexual, no problem. A little editing and what was once recognized as a mental health disorder will no longer exist in your child.

The doctor tells you your child (embryo or fetus) has the gene for Tay-Sachs or Sickle Cell Anemia, consider them gone. Diabetes. Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s. They are found in history books, not medical books. And if there is a DNA/RNA string for blindness or deafness, who would not want it altered or removed? Ethical issues aside, baby designing, for good or not-so-good, may be a thing of the future. (If you are interested in this topic, I recommend The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson.)

For the record, this is not science fiction. China has recruited “couples that would allow their babies’ genetic code to be edited making them not only resistant to HIV, but also to small pox and cholera” (p. 107). That would be one heck of a vaccine!

Reality Check

To almost end on a positive note, no one knows how many jobs are replaceable by automation. In 2013, Carl Frey and Michael Osborn of Oxford University, predicted that, “Nearly half of the activities [that they] analyzed showed up as being susceptible to automation.” But the Center for European Economic Research, in Mannheim, Germany, “arrived at a very different conclusion: Rather than 47%, their estimate is that only 9% of the professions studied run a high risk of being automated. Other studies published by global consultancies have produced estimates of this figure between 30% and 50%” (p. 54). Again, no one knows.

Given that by definition automation focuses on jobs that will be lost, and ignores jobs that will be created, I for one shall continue to sleep soundly at night. After all, “the more predictable the task the greater the chance that an artificial entity will be capable of executing it” (p.60). So, think about it this way: Are you ever surprised in your job by something unexpected? Of course you are. So what you do is not predictable. And you can handle it; a computer can’t. To be fair, the continuation of the quote is, “and now, tasks that require some form of logical reasoning are also being automated,” but I choose to emphasize the words “some form.” From my perspective this means “limited” and “limited” means a minority of “tasks” and, for the record, a “task” is not a “job.” Jobs consist of tasks, not the other way around.

And keep in mind that it is the industrial sector which most needs to fear automation. At least as of 2019, the International Labor Organization was estimating that “79% of employed Americans worked in the services sector.” So. again, no need to panic, although technology will continue to increase “efficiency, accuracy and safety” in the services sector as it has done in the industrial (p. 66). But that does not mean a loss of jobs. Accounting software has not done away with the need for accountants. Computers (word processors) have not eliminated the need for secretaries (although, you can’t call them that any more, you have to call them “administrative” or “executive assistants”). And even though computers can now create reports, or rather the data for reports, for financial institutions, they can’t interpret the data. Without the interpretation, their just meaningless numbers.

Receptionists

It might be fun or cute to be checked into a hotel by a computer panel or robot, but if something goes wrong, you will want to yell at a human being. And, if you are like me, and can’t stand to “talk” to chat-bots, companies that hire real, honest-to-goodness human beings to answer their phones and greet visitors to their offices, are more likely to secure my business and, I would be willing to bet, yours too. Good receptionists may become a valuable commodity as more and more (foolish) people try to eliminate the personal connection in business with an artificial one.

Translators

I lived in Israel in the 1980s, during which time their was a trial of an alleged Nazi war criminal, a Ukrainian guard at a concentration camp. (The only thing worse than the defense was the prosecution and he was found not guilty only, if I remember correctly, only to be subsequently deported to Germany, from the United States, from where he had been extradited to Israel, and where he was eventually convicted.) The important point is that the trial was broadcast live on television and radio in its totality. The stars were the translators.

While the judges and attorneys, of course, spoke fluent English, and in fact, the judges sometimes corrected the translators on legal nuances, it turned out that the translators, who gave not just simultaneous but almost instantaneous translations from a variety of languages into Hebrew, were all graduates of a school in Switzerland and were, at the time, the highest paid persons, on an hourly rate, anywhere. And no one doubted that they were worth every penny.

Business is becoming more and more international. We all know Google Translate and other translation apps. But computers can only translate words, at least at present, and I doubt if ever, will be able “to correctly interpret the meaning of the original text” (emphasis in original). “[Q]uestions remain as to whether a machine can master the subtleties of non-technical translation and the interpretation of the immense range of human emotions” (p.65). So the translators of technical manuals have something to worry about, but not anyone translating, let’s call it, “human conversation.” And so what? Computers can’t possible do any worse than people in creating manuals for assembling the things we buy on-line!

Miscellanea

There comes a point where enough is too much and, I fear, I may have reached, if not surpassed, that point. So let me just say that there is a very good future for people involved with virtual reality, artificial reality, video games and eSports, and education (COVID may have changed teaching forever with remote learning, for many students – no doubt the affluent and therefore the ones who will be accused of being racists, although one would hope that with broadband becoming “a right and not a privilege,” every child will have a chance to become, as I have written previously, an ideal employee. Of course, on-line accredited universities have been accepted for years.). And then there are e-commerce (predicted to amount to $6.5 trillion in two years – p. 167), and finally, fintech and cryptocurrencies (which I readily admit I do not understand).

It’s Not Academic

Finally, for all of these jobs, professions and careers, a university degree is not required (with the obvious exceptions of physicians and nurses). I once worked, for a short time, at a university that was supposed to be teaching Computer Science. Impressed, I was not. The university, in point of fact, utilized a tax-payer funded grant to set up, in essence, an unaccredited trade school to do what one would have thought its Computer Science programs would have done: prepare students for employment.

Truth of the matter is, everything regarding IT can be learned at a decent trade/technical school for a fraction of the cost of a college or university, public or otherwise. And then those studies can be augmented by obtaining certifications. I have placed a number of IT professionals with clients – engineers, help desk attendants, Quality Assurance professionals, and some I can’t remember at this moment. But I can remember that in every job description a college degree was “preferred” not “required” and Cisco and Microsoft certifications were held in higher regard than whatever academic credentials a candidate had. The only thing that mattered to my clients was whether or not the candidates I submitted could do the job, not where they learned how to do it.

Put differently, no employer is going to be interested, for example, in hiring someone who can write articles for academic journals on cybersecurity if they can’t actually set up the necessary firewalls, etc. They will want people who can actually, if you’ll pardon me, secure the cyber! You don’t need a 4-year college degree, and the corresponding debt, to do that.

(Apparently, I’m correct. This article was just published as I was concluding another round of proofreading. It’s title, “No degree? No problem at these cos.” Make sure to read the comments.)