big data robotsPut together robots with big data analytics and you have a powerful mix that could challenge us for most of our jobs. Big data analytics allows us to leverage large amounts of structured and unstructured as well as fast-moving data such as real time conversations on text, email and social media, video images, photos, data from location sensors in our phones, etc. Put this ability into a robot and they will not just threaten to replace lower-skilled jobs such as assembly line workers or supermarket personnel but now they have their eyes on doctors, pilots and journalists too!

What we are now witnessing is a revolution that will transform our lives forever. The last time we saw something similar was during the industrial revolution when machines delivered massive productivity gains. However, that time it gave people who primarily worked on farms new job opportunities in factories. What seems to be different now is that machines will take our jobs without giving us the same level of new opportunities and jobs (unless I can’t see it). 

I was in Silicon Valley last week advising executives of leading tech companies on big data analytics and enterprise performance. When I was in my car from the airport to the hotel I saw Google’s ‘Self-driving car’ on the freeway. I was exited to see this ‘big-data enabled machine’ on the road and asked the driver to slow down so I could take a photo on my phone. When we then drove on I chatted to the driver about the car and his response was ‘Looks like Google will take my job soon!’ This conversation actually prompted me to write this piece.  

We now have ‘intelligent’ robots and machines that leverage our ever-increasing ability to analyze enormous and unstructured datasets (what we call big data analytics) to perform human jobs. Here are just a few very real examples (and there are endless others):

  • Pilots: We know that autopilots have been assisting pilots to fly planes for many years. However, the latest commercial airlines are now able to fly the plane unaided. They can take off and land you safely (and arguably more safely than humans as most air disasters are down to human error). We just have to look at the military where now unmanned aircrafts (so called drone) are taking over. Fighter jet pilots will be Air Force history soon. Drones are armed with high resolution cameras that generate images which can be analyzed on board or transmitted via satellite to a powerful big-date engine that also monitors call logs of potential targets, movements using sensors,  social media activity, etc. The big-data enabled war is on!
  • Doctors: Robots are already assisting surgeons to perform operations and doctors use large-scale databases of medical information to inform their decisions. However, soon robots will be able to make a diagnosis and perform operations without human input. Robots could scan your body and then based on the entire medical knowledge library (as well as data on your own medical history, DNA code, etc.) make a solid diagnosis and even remove a brain tumor with better results than even the best brain surgeon could.
  • Call center worker: We all know about the irritating automated answering systems in call centers that give you options and then route your call to the supposedly ‘right person’ that has the skills and knowledge to help us with our query. What we are now seeing is the rise of natural language systems that are able to have a conversation with humans. IBM has developed Watson – a computer that recently challenged two of the all-time best Jeopardy! players. Without access to the Internet, Watson won the game by interpreting natural language questions and answering back after analyzing its massive data memory (that included a copy of the entire Wikipedia database).  This means that when you ring any call center you will always speak to the ‘right person’ – only that the person is a robot instead!
  • Journalist: A company called Narrative Science recently launched a software product that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ statistics. The same software can now be used to automatically write an overview of a company’s business performance using information available on the web. It uses algorithms to turn the information into attractive articles. You can see how newspapers of the future will use these tools to generate stories and deliver them to you with customized content and in a bespoke format based on your preferences it gets from the browser logs of what other content you are reading and what social media posts you are sharing.

This development is somewhat scary as well as tremendously exciting. What is scary is the thought that a big-data enabled robot could take my job in the not-too-distant future. I am interested to hear your thoughts on this - please share this post in your network and leave a comment to generate a discussion on this important topic.

Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @bernardmarr.