Geo Week News

August 21, 2013

Are Droids Coming to Take Our Jobs?

I’m one of those people that is completely addicted to TED talks. I can hit their website or the TED Radio Hour site and quickly lose a couple of hours. Last week’s program was titled, “Do We Need Humans,” and for once I felt as though they were underselling the scope of change. Maybe that is because of the industry in which I work.

When I was younger, I learned surveying from a great uncle of mine. He performed property and highway surveys and a survey was conducted by a “crew” – basically four or five guys in a Chevy Suburban. Today (as a one man “crew”), I collect data, on a daily basis, more accurately with an efficiency, coverage area, and resolution that are orders of magnitude greater than that four-man survey crew.

Now, I can assure you that I am not a better surveyor than my uncle. I just have much better tools. And, while we don’t think of them as droids or robots, I think history will view our current tools as early developments in the evolution of robotics. What was once a collection of software became a set of web apps and is now readily accessible through voice command on my mobile phone. I often answer email on my workstation and find myself irritated because I can’t dictate my response as quickly as I do on my phone! I already have a robotic assistant, it just looks like a little black rectangle instead of C3PO.

The obvious question is, “Should I be worried?” I need to work, I like work, and I do not want to be made redundant! As Andrew MacAfee states in his TED talk, “If you find yourself following instructions, doing much the same thing over and over again, that’s a job that’s squarely in the sites of automation.” I’m not sure that describes my day-to-day, but it sure did during my most profitable runs as a service provider.

So, what’s left? Field work is going away and we are quickly being eclipsed by programs that analyze spreadsheets, charts, and numbers. Someone will have to create, sell, maintain, and service these creations, but it will not take as many folks as are currently in our industry. Is there no where left for us?

I’ve always been a bit of an optimist, but when you look at the big picture we are living in a time that has only occurred once before. There was a time when we were limited to what we could do physically with our muscles. Then came the industrial revolution. Our physical abilities were multiplied and, needless to say, society was disrupted top to bottom (but especially on the bottom).

As dramatic and scary as that might have been for those living through it I wouldn’t want to go back and live my life prior to the industrial revolution. I am healthier, I see much more of my world, and eat WAY better than humans did in the past. Their industrial revolution is our digital revolution.

Now, we are for the first time multiplying the power of our individual mental abilities. Innovation is necessary for economic development and increased mental abilities bode well for our future. We are living in the period that will be noted for the invention and explosion of digital abilities. I believe those who look at work in this way will find more opportunities than dead ends. But is doesn’t mean that we won’t need to work. After all, as the French philosopher Voltaire once said: “Work saves us from three great evils; boredom, vice and need.”

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