In A World Where Technology Is Making Humans Replaceable, Only The Versatile And Creative Will Survive

Last week, after a 2.7 earthquake aftershock hit the northeastern part of California, the LA Times published a comprehensive report on the temblor within 30 minutes of it occurring.

The article was brief and to-the-point, packaging all the information in a perfectly concise manner. From a journalistic standpoint, it was fundamentally sound.

The article was interesting, namely the sentence with which the piece came to a close: "This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author."

That "algorithm" is a hint at what has been known for quite a while. Technology is advancing, improving all the time. That is a basic, and self-evident, truth.

Not only is it doing so in ways that can entertain and help us, technology is also improving in ways that can replace the work of human beings.

According to a recent study conducted at Oxford University, as many as half of current US jobs will be replaceable in the next two decades, particular by more LA Times-like algorithms, computers and robots.

And while any subject that is headlined by the word "robots" inherently seems like a topic that lacks seriousness, the development of artificial intelligence is no laughing matter, especially when it poses a bigger threat to your livelihood than ever.

“These transitions have happened before,” Carl Benedikt Frey, co-author of the Oxford study, told Bloomberg's Aki Ito. “What’s different this time is that technological change is happening even faster, and it may affect a greater variety of jobs.”

The implications of the study are clear, then. In a period during which the youngest Millennials will be establishing their careers, reputations and businesses, technology is elect to develop so rapidly that it can alter the value of any work. In short, there are jobs at stake, especially for those who perform routine tasks.

“This stuff works best on fairly structured problems,” an MIT professor, Frank Levy, told Ito. “Where there’s more flexibility needed and you don’t have all the information in advance, it’s a problem.”

"Flexibility" is very much the operative when discussing technology and its ability to devalue the commodity that is human labor.

While the advancement of algorithms has made it at least possible to replace the likes of loan officers and travel agents -- jobs that usually require a narrow range of skills -- flexibility will likely be the key to maintaining one's value in the workplace.

The Los Angeles Times might be able to delegate a few tasks to a new bot, but it is unlikely to find a way to replace the writer, who knows how to code and boasts advanced public speaking skills.

Meanwhile, for those who already apply a sense of creativity and social skills to their crafts, there is real reason to feel safe from the types of technologies that might become more efficient with time but are unlikely to capture the benefits of human imagination. That is, for the foreseeable future.

While some observers will admit that technology is far from advancing to the point of being able to do the same jobs as humans on a large scale, others might say such advancements are just around the corner.

“I think we’re going to see an evolution [over the next 10 to 20 years] from single-task robots to multiple-task robots to robots that can be more like a personal assistant,” the New York Times was told by Philip Solis, an analyst at ABI research.

Until then, it'll just be that much more important for people to not only achieve a level of expertise in whatever area they choose, but also to do so whilst becoming equally competent in other areas.

"In the meantime, avoid technological unemployment by doing what the robots can’t," Bloomberg's Tom Randall said. "Break routine. Do something unexpected. Figure out what makes you uniquely human and nourish it."

Photo Credit: Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images