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Don't Fear the Robot: It's Time to Embrace Automation

Machine learning is quickly overtaking workers in a variety of job roles and career disciplines. Even in the complex and highly technical IT realm, there is cause for concern. Or is there?

Robot arms in manufacturing plantHave robots been making you a bit nervous of late? Not the bad sci-fi kind of robots, with lasers and spaceships. No, I'm talking about the boring everyday industrial robots that are quickly becoming better at doing ... all kinds of different things.


Many have worried that machines that are able to learn, decide, and execute may eventually replace humans even in high-skill jobs. Although the U.S. IT industry saw an increase of 198,200 net jobs in 2015, a number of IT professionals fear losing work to automation and are uncertain about their future in the sector.


Whether the 2013 prediction by Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne that "47 percent of all jobs in the United States (will) be lost to automation by 2033” is realistic or not, it’s a fact that machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence are rendering a number of occupations obsolete.


Extinction of jobs, however, is nothing new. Over the centuries, many occupations have vanished or morphed into different jobs. The advent of electricity saw lamplighters lose their jobs. Similarly, refrigeration made ice cutters redundant and advancements in phone technology put many a switchboard operator out of work.


So, the question today is not whether jobs will be lost, but which jobs are likely to disappear. Many rote, predictable tasks have already been automated, and efforts are now on to automate cognitive functions such as the collection and processing of data.


As technology continues to evolve, automation will increase — but that isn’t necessarily a threat. Many see it as an opportunity. Attitude is of key importance here. Engaging with automation rather than resisting it will enable one to successfully adapt.


Whose Job Is Already On the Line?


So, what kinds of IT jobs can already be done by machines, or are likely to be handled in the near future by automated processes? If your role comprises predictable, repetitive tasks, it will likely be automated sooner rather than later. Machines are already capable of performing routine work in predictable circumstances.


For many IT workers, routine work forms only part of their job, in which case job modification is a possibility. As an example, those who spend a lot of time processing data, generating reports and documenting tickets could move on to creative and strategic activity once their more routine tasks are automated.


According to a KPMG survey, roughly 75 percent of U.S. tech CEOs surveyed expected at least 5 percent of roles in marketing, sales and technology to be lost to automation and machine learning. In 2016, McKinsey and Company reported that some jobs at higher skill levels might also be at risk if those jobs could be executed by software programs.


Already, many IT workers use automated tools to perform a variety of functions. Some of the most common automation processes are group policies, custom scripts and update tools.