In a world of digitisation, are robots going to replace humans?

With the rise of technology and digitisation, it has been a long-held anxiety in certain quarters that the need for human skill sets will be replaced. Certainly, we have seen a shift in the demand for particular capabilities from employers over the years, but can tech really replace people?

The most sought-after skills in the workplace

A few weeks ago, we discussed the most sought-after skills that employers look for. Without being industry specific, these revolved around soft skills such as communication, leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skills, adaptability, problem solving and empathy. If we assume someone already has the academic credentials they need to go into a career where specific knowledge is required (such as medicine, architecture or engineering), then what makes these additional talents so valuable?

The human experience

The answer lies in the human experience. The Harvard Business Review reported that from a survey of directors, CROs and senior executives, 70% said that all digital transformation initiatives did not reach their goals. It stated that in 2019: “of the $1.3 trillion that was spent on DT last year, it was estimated that $900 billion went to waste.” This astronomical sum seemed to largely hinge on where digitisation had failed to provide a customer experience that met their human needs. 

Amber Case, who is a cyborg anthropologist and user experience designer, discusses this in her popular TED Talk, on what she describes as ‘calm technology’. As people, we need certain things from our interactions and experiences, and as technology becomes more prevalent and advanced, the need for human experience becomes more and more important. These hinge on providing a sense of support, care, safety, inspiration. In short, there are skills that humans have that technology simply doesn’t.
What if you have a smart fridge that locks when you have eaten a certain number of calories but you have had friends over? What if it opens with fingerprint ID but that gets distorted if you have been cooking and you have oil on your hands? On a much more relatable level, we have all had frustrating customer service experiences where we have an issue with a product and have to navigate an automated system when we phone, only for it to hang up on us when it doesn’t understand what we’re saying? 

Technology highlights skills that only humans have

These are all examples of where technology has its limitations and what’s needed is human intuition, human understanding and human connectivity. When someone is ill, the specifics of their problem may be solvable with the help of technology but the nuances of the issue, the lateral thinking and the reassurance that a person needs, is a human skill that no robot can provide. This neither negates the need for technical human skill, nor undermines the benefits of technological development. What it does show is the enormous value of higher executive function that only people can bring to a situation. It also shows the responsibility of industry leaders to recognise not only where technology can be used, but also where it should be used.
In terms of how that affects our academic and professional development and what we can do to support our career prospects, it raises the value of a truly holistic approach. At CamVision we are extremely open about the need to be knowledgeable in your field, especially if you’re applying to universities like Oxford or Cambridge. However, at all ages, learning cannot simply be about reciting information parrot fashion in order to pass an exam. It’s about learning to apply it, communicate it and develop your thinking into new areas that other people might not have explored before. In short, technology and digitisation are a big part of our world and they’re only getting smarter. However, in terms of replacing the need for humans in the workplace it only really goes to show our intrinsic value.
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