Dream On, Dolores... We’ll Keep Our Humans for Now, Thank You

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Is it unprofessional to want to make a drinking game out of the number of times I hear the following?:

  • Machine Learning
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual Reality
  • Cognitive Robotics

I work in the retail industry, and it seems many envision a Westworld scenario right around the corner. So, when exactly will humans become obsolete?

An Uncertain Future?

Alec Ross in his book, The Industries of the Future, states: “In tomorrow’s workplace, either the human is telling the robot what to do or the robot is telling the human what to do.”

Ross talked with SearchCIO about cognitive robotics resulting in the displacement of huge numbers of workers, and not just the hard labor kind. Some hail cognitive robotics as having the potential to also displace knowledge workers.

A More Balanced Approach to Workforce Automation

Sure, robots, AI, and weighted shelves are exciting, but the actual execution of a flawless customer experience will largely be facilitated by humans.

J.P. Gowdner wrote an excellent piece in Computer Weekly addressing claims that robots will steal all the jobs. He counters that robots will largely change the type of worker that is best suited to the new world of retail.


The above graph from Forrester shows that automation is definitely cutting into human jobs, but it doesn't tell the whole story. On the flip side, over 13 million jobs are predicted to be created by automation. Perhaps more telling is that automation changes the types of work all people are doing.

As we use machines to do more routine work (bean-counting), we free up more capacity for humans in the workplace to be creative and innovative.


The Retail Employee of the Future

So, what kind of human will thrive in this new reality? Entrepreneur writes about 4 qualities defining the ideal retail employee of the future:

  1. Savvy with tech (no surprise here)
  2. Down with social events
  3. Down with social media
  4. Oriented towards selling

It’s like some old Greek dude once said, “Change is the only constant.” You’ll definitely work with smart robots in the future. Maybe you recognize yourself in list above. If so, good on you. If not, what will you do to be ready for the retail workplace of the future?


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