Automation is back in the news this week. It is not a new subject for this blog. At the end of this post, there is a partial list of prior posts that address the coming changes in our working world. I find this topic fascinating, and in some respects it reminds me of the idiom of Nero "fiddling while Rome burns." There are some flaws in this old saw; not the least of which, there were no known fiddles in existence back in AD 64, which means Nero may have played his Lyre, but I digress.
The meaning of the idiom is:
to do nothing or something trivial while knowing that something disastrous is happening.
And so much of what is being addressed today in workers' compensation seems trivial when compared to the impending changes that are coming for all of us. We are seemingly, persistently, rearranging the deck chairs without regard to the condition of the boat. Consider a few recent concepts that have garnered individual attention; and then consider the implications as they are tied together.
There is technology that has engaged artificial intelligence in document review. An AI named Mya is sorting and prioritizing resumes for human resource professionals. Paper sorting jobs are disappearing for lawyers,financial analysts, and more. This illustrates an effect AI may have on employment opportunities.
Also, according to the BBC, there is technology that has merged the mechanics of voice recognition with programs that analyze your tone, "choice of words, sentence structure - to determine personality traits." Traits which an employer may or may not find desirable in an employee. Developers claim that "in a fraction of a second, a software program sums up your character," and they claim it is spot-on accurate.
A multitude of authors, bloggers, tweeters, and more have posited that personality testing is an appropriate tool for making claims adjusting decisions. A Lockton report even suggests that such testing would also allow employers to "look for positive behaviors," and "exclude negative behaviors" in the hiring process. More specific testing might also predict integrity, dishonesty, and "propensity toward" things like "unsafe acts resulting in accidents."
An Article in Psychiatry says that "personality dysfunction" has been shown to have "substantial negative and diffuse effects on work functioning." Furthermore, various studies have concluded that some Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory testing "scales" have been shown to correlate with injury frequency. Others were "significantly related to injury duration." Another study is described here. In short, psycho-social factors are thought to be correlated with both occurrence and duration of work injury.
Robotics are on the rise. I have written extensively on robotics, and what these engineers and programmers are doing is simply incredible. This week's news brought discussion that General Motors now employs 30,000 robots, of which it has connected 7,500 to the Internet. This allows data to be analyzed (AI), and problems foreseen and managed. Simply stated, robot production and deployment are exploding. An ABI Research projection says that U.S. industrial robot sales "will jump nearly 300% in less than a decade." Robots are here, they are becoming more prevalent, and the trend is toward massive marketplace increase.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says that there are dramatic changes coming as a result, saying that robotics are not "science fiction." The robot effect will be loss of jobs. One recent report says that "up to 38% of jobs in the U.S. are susceptible to automation and artificial intelligence" in the next 15 years (app). The highest U.S. unemployment rate ever was during the Great Depression, reaching "as high as 25%." If 38% of American jobs are eliminated by robots and those workers became unemployed (added to the existing unemployment rate), the resulting unemployment rate could easily surpass the Great Depression era.
Some posit that the unemployment rate could run "greater than 50%" in the "global economy." And, these predictions address only the direct effect (less manufacturing or production); it ignores the ripple effects of technology like self-driving cars leading to less or no motor vehicle accidents, which would result in less body shop jobs, surgeon jobs, and attorney jobs (an oversimplification at best, but it does appear the implications are far-reaching).
In the 19th century Americans migrated from farms to the cities. In mid 1800, about 50% of Americans lived and worked on farms. The mechanical revolution changed that, and people were displaced or relocated in the process. One person with a tractor could far outperform one person with a mule. People transitioned to manufacturing, and later still the American economy evolved to information and service-based strengths as manufacturing moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. Each transition has profoundly affected workers, employers, and America in general.
How do AI, Robotics, and predictive analytics come together? While the implications may not be immediately obvious, they are also not that complex. Robotics (manufacturing) and AI (service and professional) will increasingly destroy jobs. The trends have been consistent, the prevalence curve of robotics is turning sharply upward (300%), and robot costs are decreasing. AI is evolving, and costs there will likewise decrease. This progression will soon look much like the industrial revolution's affect on farming. There may well be less jobs, or at least there will be different jobs. The direction of change may be less predictable, but the fact of change is indisputable. Simply put, many employers will likely need and hire less human beings.
The BBC article says that the AI being used in human resources is able to analyze human character because it is based upon "traditional personality tests" taken by "6,000 people (who also) had their speech recorded" in the development of this AI software. Essentially, they personality-tested this population and drew conclusions. They then tested these people's voice tone, "choice of words, sentence structure" and correlated the results. This computer program can now determine personality traits from a phone call. The simplicity and automation makes the cost of information to the employer virtually zero.
Thus, technology has evolved personality testing and grading to a fully automated, telephonic process. Those personality traits may predict whether someone has integrity, is honest, and is safety-conscious. It will certainly create the perception of such predictions. Because those traits are seen as potentially predicting probability of injury, and perhaps duration of recovery, companies that do hire employees in the future are likely to increasingly hire personality types that boost profits; employees that are less likely to get hurt, and more likely to return rapidly to work if they do.
In summary: less jobs, cheap, fast, inexpensive analytics of personality, and increasingly competitive work and hiring marketplace.
The second point made by Governor Bush is critical. He is encouraging us all to understand the inevitability of the changes, and the "huge challenges" that they portend. His solution is "in education and job training so that people can obtain the skills needed where there are currently job openings and for the jobs of the future." Education is a valid point of consideration.
But, for education to succeed, education processes will likely have to change. There will have to be acceptance of the fact that not every student will (or needs to) go to college. All students need training and education that is goal-oriented, result-focused, and effective. There seems lately to be an educational bias that supports such thought-through logic for the college-bound but not so much for the non-college bound. There will have to be educational reform that provides the training and education that is needed and that is in demand in society. This may mean less emphasis on particular priorities and skills held sacred by some educational administrators, counselors and teachers.
Education must build foundations. Educators must appreciate that change is not only inevitable, but constant. People must appreciate that the speed of change today is incredible, and that vocational dreams and plans have to be realistic and flexible in light of the world around us. Change is not coming, change is here. If it is not actively and effectively confronted and co-opted, it may potentially damage a great many people. One cannot ignore its approach or deny its implications.
Click here to see previous blog posts on technology.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Langham is the Florida Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims. He blogs weekly regarding system issues, regulations and decisions. He has published many articles and delivered more than 1,000 professional speeches.
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