Hi Peter - Sorry, it's been awhile. Happy New Year's.
Notionally, knowledge-work and technologically facilitated/amplified human ingenuity is good. However, I'm not completely comfortable with glibness of the quote on its face value. If people are not "knowledge-workers" they will be "unemployed", this trend has already moved far beyond factory workers. We shouldn't assume automation automatically results in higher-levels of intellectual engagement. After all, workers can be robots, in fact that's what the word means in Russian (consider "computers" use to refer to people). Our industry has a responsibility to understand how we are baking people out of process. We should probably not exclude ourselves from that set and consider how tech improves human condition, not supplants it.
Food for thought.
A rather dystopian thought. I certainly hope humanity doesn't forget how to use its hands to build and repair the physical world. Nor, I think, will it ever be economical to design and build a machine for every task. In any event, as the previous post suggests, let's focus on ways to use technology to make humans happy, rather than redundant.
Essentiallly, yes. Maybe up to 95%
The key question is: how easy is it to automate? It will continue to get easier to automate routine processes to the point where such a thing becomes second nature. However knowledge workers, by their nature, will be discovering new things and new ways to do things. Those newly discovered things are likely to be done manually for a while, so there is always going to be some percentage doing routine work.
This is covered in: http://social-biz.org/2013/10/26/automation-elevating-workers-not-eliminating/
However, there is the other side, that in some cases routine work is valuable:
Several decades ago great dream (or maybe the great lie) was that automation would deliver all of us shorter working weeks and increased leisure time. That quite obviously hasn’t happened. Instead many of us work longer hours than our parents, with lower job security as the benefits of automation and increased productivity are concentrated in the hands of the few rather than being shared.
Automation has been replacing workers for over a century and will continue to do so. Initially the impact was mostly on manual and lower skilled roles. Increasingly however in advanced economies automation is now beginning to erode higher skilled roles and roles we would have classified as being performed by knowledge workers e.g. accountancy and legal roles. A recent study in the US showed that 47% of jobs are at risk of automation in the next 2 decades. In effect we will see the further hollowing out of the middle class, on whom most advanced economies are built, and further concentration of wealth and capital in the hands of top 5%.
To answer your question, no, all workers will not be knowledge workers in the future. In fact under the current system we will need fewer knowledge workers in future with service and lower skilled roles, where automation isn’t practical, growing again as a proportion of the overall workforce. The fewer knowledge roles that remain will be higher skilled, more creative and crucially fewer in number.
Automation is most certainly about to increase in a massive burst because of IoT. Eventually everything will have a sensor attached to it. This very simple fact means that most processes will soon have access to the information they need to complete themselves. In the midterm this will mean the slow but inevitable disappearance of the human filled form - something that has been a cornerstone of most BPM suites since the beginning of BPM and workflow. Once the form is gone, the workers will go next at an ever accelerating pace. The only thing left will be the knowledge worker, and even he/she will have an ever more specialized role to play.
Isn't there knowledge needed for every type of work done by a person? For repairing a car you probably need more knowledge then selling insurances or implementing BPM systems, so I really don't like the distinction between knowledge worker and 'the rest of the losers' .
Besides from that I have some ethical issues wit all the automating of 'brainless work' . Nice thought that we all could have more leisure time, but leisure time doesn't buy me food and shelter. (oh my god, what a fun, those maslow pyramids where someone added 'wifi')
You might call me socialistic, but shouldn't everyone be able to earn a decent living?
A few weeks ago I was busy with capture software that automates the data entry of paper documents. There was a reaction: Why not send the documents to unemployed people and let them enter the data so they can earn some money. But, shareholders ruled, so 20 other people form the mail department were replaced by machines (which of course were implemented by knowledge workers)
It might be the future and I don't see technology as evil (especially in healthcare and energy), but is it a better future? Yeah, probably for the shareholders of technology companies, but for normal families? I really wonder. The idea of a large gap in society between the ones who could keep up and the one's who didn't....I don't like that Idea.
But maybe I'm pessimistic and do large technology firms really turn into more social businesses and create robot, machines that create food, shelter etc that will be offered to people who can't support themselves. And of course a machine that serves free beer while I am enjoying my 168 hours of leisure time each week.
(and of course I could add some quotes now of Charlie Chaplin's final speech in 'The Great Dictator')
The question seems so black and white. I think employees will have more aspects of knowledge work in their jobs, but I think there will still be much routine work (which could be automated) in their jobs. I would like to see the knowledge work element growing vs. having it be all or none.
As if "knowledge" work was the only kind that would survive. Any work that involves craftsmanship or skill will have life. People have way too much faith in AI in my view, and not nearly enough faith in the human condition. If the world will be given over to bots and automation, why worry about customer experience ;)
From my book.
BPM helps to eliminate work which does not add value. This “streamlining” of the work is achieved partly through the explicit classification of all human activities as follows:
• intellectual activities – these include mainly value-adding work (content editing, evaluation, decision-making, etc.); they are essentially human activities and are carried out by people who may also employ the help of different IT tools and services;
• verification activities – these include different types of necessary checks that other work has been carried out correctly; they are carried out very efficiently by humans, but can often be partially automated;
• administrative activities – these include process-support activities (e.g. the renaming of files, collection of metadata, generation of other formats, etc.); they may be human activities if existing informational resources have not yet been integrated or if there are some historical or socio-cultural reasons (e.g. there is a requirement that an acknowledgement letter be signed personally); unless there is a reason not to, these activities can be automated.
In an ideal enterprise business system, the humans should perform only the intellectual (added-value) activities, with the other activities being left to automation. In other words, the aims of business automation are the automation of all administrative activities and as many as possible of the verification activities, as well as the provision of all information needed for carrying out the intellectual activities. In this way, all administrative activities and the majority of verification activities are transferred from humans to programs.
A typical situation in an enterprise is that the human activities can be classified as 50 % intellectual, 20 % verification and 30 % administrative as shown in the “now” part of figure. The deployment of the BPM (see the “future” part of figure) can improve the enterprise business system, typically over a few years time frame, with the following breakdown of human activities: substantial reduction in verification activities and elimination of all administrative activities.
What is a knowledge worker anyway? Is a farmer a knowledge worker? Or a carpenter a knowledge worker?
Because if they aren't I really hope they do not disappear in the future. I still prefer all the food my father-in-law provides me from his farm (non-automated btw...) than any kind of processed food I buy in the supermarket. And I'm also pretty tired of lousy IKEA furniture who breaks at the slightest move.
I really hate this conversation around people who are classified as "Low Skilled" who are not as literate as you are and whose tasks might be boring, easy to automate, and repetitive to you but which they actually enjoy doing. They have different skills... Not high, not low. Different! They might not be as intellectual as you are, not engage in such interesting conversations as you do, and their work might even have a market value much lower than your work (god bless the capitalism and the service industry)... but what they do still has value. And they are quite important by the way. It is manual work that you can actually automate somehow... but it will never be the same thing.
So no... not everyone in the future will be a knowledge worker... And that is a good thing.
Just some final food for thought: http://bemorewithless.com/the-story-of-the-mexican-fisherman/
I think the statement misses the point! Business is about people internal and external. Processes are the agreed sets of work required to deliver an outcome. All workers are “knowledge workers” now and what ever the future holds. The key issue is how to support people to do their work better, make them feel better and free up time to use their brains to contribute the future of the business.
This can be achieved by empowering them yet removing the repetitive tasks which can be automated. This does require the BPM approach with in built flexibility in the software to deliver that vital real time measurement. It is the future and the added benefit to the business is not just being more effective it results in the “knowledge” of what the process is will be transparent and really belong to the business?
The Greeks invented Democracy. Theatre. Philosophy. How did they find the time? Well they had slaves to do all the work.
We all know, as BPM professionals, that given the will and the budget we could probably eliminate all but 1% of the people from the majority of business processes.
And that this streamlining is inevitable...
In the 1800s 70% of people worked on the land. Now it is under 2%.
In the mid 1900s, over 50% of people worked in manufacturing. Now it is down to 10% and falling.
The computer age (1970-2000) and the connection age (2000-) are reframing our concepts of work.
Marc Andreasson put it better than me...
"There will soon be only two types of people - those who tell computers what to do, and those who are told what to do by computers."
There is a second quotation to consider. Erik Brynolfson's in his book The Second Machine Age...
"In the 1st machine age, we overcame the limitations of human muscles. In the 2nd we overcome the limitations of the human mind."
Business as we know will soon cease to exist. Decoupled from human labour and convoluted human thought processes, it will become more efficient and goods will simply be there when we want them.
So we will then reinvent the word worker - decoupling it from sitting in an office shuffling paper, just as our parents decoupled it from the idea of shovelling coal or digging ditches.
And we will move on to something new, more enriching and more exciting.
We as BPM people can help to create that fulfilling new world. Or we can stay firmly stuck in the old one, solving 20th century problems in an ever shrinking market.
As I'm sitting at a conference room table made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes... automation can't make this. Even the sanding machine couldn't be used because of nails in the floor. As long as humans are the buyers, they'll want things that only humans can make, or things that require human touch, at the least. Skill, Craft, Knowledge and Art hopefully won't go out of style!
When we analyse long data series on employee earnings, we send trends like the factory worker that could have a house, two cars and go on vacation every year does not exist anymore. It was replaced by the robot. We also see looking to these trends, that the medium wage of the so called knowledge workers is decreasing, not increasing, meaning also that their relevance is loosing power at large.
Today's knowledge worker is being rapidly substituted by the new assembly robots. When you see what is happening in financials with the virtual branch and introduction of virtual assistants, with the loom of technology tailored to massively process data, not like in the examples of medicine, like for example processing seismic studies in oil and gas, predicting energy demand in power and utilities companies, you will see that the brave workers will be step by step substituted.
For the worker, the challenge is how to become indispensable over and over again.
Interestingly, I re-read the Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" ("Utopia 14" originally) recently. This sci-fi anti-utopia dated 1952 depicts the fully automated world. People are divided to ones that tell computers what to do and ones told by computers what to do (thanks @Peter Johnston for the quote). In brief, there will be tremendous social tentions that may produce very, very bad consequences - even the new Dark Ages, probably. As @Peter Whibley's rightfully noted, instead of freeing people from hard work automation separates to few ones who work harder than before and majority who has nothing to do at all.
On the other hand, our extrapolations often don't take into account that our world is limited as well as the resources. E.g. how would the world after the "Oil Peak" look loke? Would we still replace iPhone X by iPhone X+1 each year?
There are two key trends that are inexorable in todays business world; firstly, computers are getting better at mimicking human thought and problem solving. Secondly, we are relentlessly focused on cutting costs, reducing, waste and inefficiency producing goods and services faster and better. As these trends play out, we will see and ever increasing role of automation of "white collar" roles, in the same way mechanization decimated the amount of manual labour in the farming industry, we are seeing similar trends in the banking, insurance, and public sectors. See my colleague Simon Gratton's blog for Capgemini's Technivison "Cogito Ergo Sum" http://bit.ly/1rcXkKO
The point is the work we expect humans to do will change, hopefully for the better, we should be expecting people to contribute more of their artistic and intellectual capabilities. We will have to find other ways to satisfy the need for physical exercise as the workplace becomes more sedentary. If we can employ cognitive computing to compute next best action in a sales pursuit or a treatment protocol in a medical diagnosis scenario then why shouldn't we. however until we have complete confidence in these new approaches humans will always be required to review, check and validate automated decisions. And as all programmers know, computers still can't think, we can't program the intellectual capacity to for the eureka moment, although it's getting closer every day. So until then human capacity is still required, with the help of computers, to extend the boundaries of what is possible.
I predict radical change in working patterns in the next 20 years, more and more "thinking" by machines, encroaching on once sacrosanct human careers. I'm looking forward to the first fully automated divorce attorney. So are we all going to be knowledge workers, I think we, as human being, are all going to be moving up the food change, away from manual and repetitive non value adding activities . However I also see increased need for humans to build, codify, research and generate new ideas as well. We also have a duty of care to make the advances in the workplace beneficial for humans everywhere and not just a few. If we can feed and clothe every person on the planet, through massive efficiencies in technology and manufacturing, what a wonderful opportunity to free human potential to think of new ways to inspire us; either in arts, crafts, science or philosophy.
I like the comment by Keith Swenson, "The key question is: how easy is it to automate? It will continue to get easier to autmate routiine processes to the point where such a thing becomes second nature. However, knowledge workers, by their nature, will be discovering new things and new ways to do things."
Keith looks at knowledge workers and automated systems in some depth in his chapter, "My Sandbox, Your Sandbox" in the new book, "Thriving on Adaptability: Best Practices for Knowledge Workers."
This book describes the work of managers, decision makers, executives, doctors, lawyers, campaign managers, emegency responders, strategists and many others who have to think for a living. These are people who figure out what needs to be done at the same time that they do it.
We will always need these people.