Technobabble: Automation and the modern worker

Technobabble is our look at the weird, wonderful and wildly creative aspects of technology and the tech industry. If you have any babble, feel free to email directly or reach out on Twitter.

For decades, pundits have discussed the plight of the American worker. Without fail, as technology has advanced and become more automated, some workers have been displaced.

Take the assembly line, for example. Workers en masse were employed to ensure every part of the manufacturing process kept up with industry standards. But as machines entered into the assembly line, work became automated and fewer employees were required, leading to layoffs and worker displacement. 

Today, grim forecasts about the rise of automation and workforce losses abound. Forrester recently predicted the net loss of 6% of U.S. jobs by 2021, which could impact more than 7.5 million workers. But beyond transportation and logistics — areas that were previously predicted to become more automated with self-driving cars — automation is also expected to impact customer and consumer services areas. 

In Japan, IBM Watson's artificial intelligence-based systems is helping a life insurance company replace human insurance claim workers. And another recent study from Oxford University anticipates that insurance underwriters, real estate brokers and loan officers could be replaced by automation within 10 years. 

Through it all, man has an unparalleled ability to survive and thrive. Some thought tractors would kill the workforce, yet here we are. With the rise of machines, it is still necessary to program, build and fix them. As it turns out, humans are pretty good resources for that. 

The forecasts do seem a bit dismal, but the rise of automation is leading to a new kind of worker. Technology is supposed to make tasks easier, so companies are rolling out innovative solutions and approaches to filling both the tech talent gap as well as solutions to make life easier for the average worker. 

The new blue collar

In a recent article, Wired declared coders the next blue-collar worker. These are the workers who will not become fantastically rich from their app-making prowess. Rather than plugging away at manufacturing work, these blue-collar workers can add code into the product assembly line at any company, whether that's a bank or an insurance company. 

As Wired notes, "these sorts of coders won't have the deep knowledge to craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks. Why would they need to? That level of expertise is rarely necessary at a job."

Not only does the work pay well, but it also offers outlets for creativity and a steady, in-demand employment. 

Sure, the average coding job does not seem glamorous. But for an employee looking for a well-paying job and a work-life balance, coding jobs may be the perfect fit. 

Start 'em early 

Technology related jobs don't always require a four-year degree. Students can pick up programming skills from tinkering with the home computer or attending bootcamps.

To learn technology skills, emphasis has been placed on starting students early, rather than waiting for higher education. And with a glaring tech talent gap, with technology workers in high demand across sectors, this is more important than ever before.

Some nonprofits are working to introduce coding into high schools. The nonprofit ScriptEd is working with 31 high schools  in New York City to teach students how to code, Fortune reports. With the help of professional software developers, students learn real-world engineering skills and receive assistance finding summer internships. 

Nonprofits like ScriptEd also produces future technology talent for the workforce at any level, from assembly-line style coders to the innovative experts creating the companies of tomorrow. 

It's here to make life easier

Fear of worker displacement aside, technology can be pretty dang cool and help make our daily lives just a tad simpler. 

Now, Microsoft's Cortana is making sure our scattered brains aren't forgetful. It sure beats tying a string around your finger, hoping you remember. 

Cortana will now remind you of things you have promised to do in your emails by highlighting portions of an email and saying "don't forget you mentioned this," The Verge reports

Whether that's a reminder to include an attachment or providing information to your boss, Cortana won't let you forget, thanks to machine learning. We can all celebrate the end of forgetfulness. 

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Filed Under: Leadership & Careers