A golden future for knowledge workers?

Accountants, dispatchers, controllers, translators, pilots. Many of them have new jobs today, or none at all. More and more demanding work is being taken over by knowledge systems. And it’s really just getting started now.

In February 2011, “Watson,” software developed by IBM, competed against two human opponents in three episodes of the U.S. quiz show “Jeopardy.” These had previously won record amounts on the show. However, they had no chance against “Watson”: Watson won the game with a final score of $77,147 against the $24,000 and $21,600 respectively.

Finding the right answers to specific questions is by no means a new capability of computer software. There have been very reliable self-counseling systems for more than ten years, which are pleasant to use due to multimedia elements. A typical example of this is software for tax returns. Even through the by far most complicated tax law in the world, the German one, one comes with a sequence of questions and answers, a dialogical consulting routine, quality-assured to perfect results. The software’s presenter welcomes via video as if to a show and guides the tax consulting client with mild determination. If “artificial intelligence” leaves humans behind in “Jeopardy” and even passes the acid test of German tax law, then it is quite conceivable that AI will also support many professions and process tasks or take them over entirely.

The computer is even conquering man’s creativity, which is still shrouded in mystery. Computational creativity is the new buzzword. Computers today can already draw creatively and compose music based on keywords. Work is underway on semantic legal databases that will enable even laypersons to understand the law. The goal is to bring about better court decisions, but still by human judges.

At FMG, we are working to support our analytics work with artificial intelligence capabilities. FutureNet, the platform for future markets, is already able to automatically evaluate studies for future statements.

In view of the quaternarization of the economy, the increasing proportion of knowledge workers, management consulting or financial consulting, for example, are usually said to have a bright future. But surprises are not excluded here either. It could happen that a part of the consulting processes is taken over by, in extreme cases, free self-counseling systems. For many knowledge workers, this is shocking news. Until now, it was assumed that knowledge workers would not be replaced by machines anytime soon. But this supposed certainty is a false hope.

In simpler knowledge professions, a certain shift of power from the consultant to the consulting software can already be observed today.

Ten years ago, the special achievement of a cab driver was that he knew every street in his city and could see the way in a split second. Today, anyone can purchase this special knowledge service in the form of a navigation device for 49 euros, and get more power and more quality in the same process. The value of cab driver performance decreases. The same is true for all other simple knowledge performances that can be programmed in algorithms. This affects all operational processes, from procurement to sales and management.

What works today with simple consulting services will also work in the future with the more complex

However, this development is not limited to simple consulting services: In 2011, Google entered the financial business with its “Google Advisor” consulting service. The site compares the services and prices of banks with each other: credit card terms, financing concepts, loans, account management fees and others. The user enters the criteria himself and can thus obtain the information relevant to him about the best bank and the best product. What works for financial transactions is also foreseeable for insurance, real estate, automobiles, machinery, or even education and training. You don’t even need real artificial intelligence for this to advise customers and allow customers to advise themselves.
What then becomes of the consultants?

If you ask people who earns their money with “consulting”, often only those who have “consultant” in their job title feel addressed. In fact, however, almost all people, and especially “knowledge workers,” are engaged in consulting activities, perhaps not primarily, but to a high degree. In every business there are consulting processes, for example in sales. So the development of artificial intelligence is a substitution threat for very many traditional professions and tasks. It forces us to redefine our own role.

Of course, consultants will not all become unemployed, because in the case of important and especially the emotionally difficult decisions, people will continue to seek out a “human” consultant. This emotional part of consulting, the wisdom part, can by no means be replaced by machines – even though every consulting customer will assume and expect that intelligent and “omniscient” systems are working behind the consultant and that the consultant has access to them.

The emergence of ubiquitous, artificially intelligent and (almost) free advisors that can provide better answers than any human advisor will bring fundamental changes. We are much further along today than we were in the 1960s to 1980s, when people still dreamed of expert systems and were disappointed.

Already today, in many areas, a shift in power can be seen not only between the consultant and the computer, but also between the consultant and the person seeking advice. The Internet offers a great many self-advice routines; the semantic Web of the future will provide concrete answers to concrete questions. And indeed, the wave of self-counseling offers is just piling up massively.

The solution

Make sure that you yourself and your colleagues and employees learn new skills in time and say goodbye to old skills in time so that they can still do valuable work in the future.

Follow these links as well:

► The Future Strategy Program for SMEs

► Free video crash course THE FUTURE OF YOUR BUSINESS
► BUSINESS WARGAMING for robust business and future opportunities
► KEYNOTES by Pero Mićić for your employees and customers

Have a bright future!