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Is Big Data the Single Biggest Threat To Your Job

Guest blog post by Bernard Marr

The biggest threat to your job might come from an unexpected place. I believe that there is a hidden assassin lurking in the background waiting to finish you off in your job. Let’s face it; job security is high on everyone’s wish list right now, especially at times of economic hardship when it might not be so easy to quickly find another one.

So how secure is your job? Where is this hidden threat coming from and how can you put yourself into the best possible position to keep your job? I believe the biggest threat to your job, indeed most of our jobs, is coming from an unforeseen eliminator. I believe that our improved ability to capture and analyze data will allow us to automate most jobs. And I am not just talking about the manual and un-skilled jobs but any job, including the jobs of knowledge workers, doctors, journalists and even sports coaches.

I don’t blame you if, at this point, you might think ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ So, let me give you some examples that should make it clearer, but be aware, they might send a few cold shivers down your spine.

  • Taxi-Drivers: When I was in the back of a car driving from San Francisco airport to Silicon Valley I noticed Google’s self-driving car on the road. I said to the diver: “Hey, check this out. The car we just passed has no driver in it. It’s Google’s self-driving car and stays on the road safely by analyzing a gigantic amount of data from sensor and cameras in real time”. His reply: “So that means that Google will take away my job soon”. This made me think a little more about the fact that our ability to process data will have an impact on so many jobs and my thoughts continued on that journey.
  • Border Control Agents: When I went back to the airport to catch my plane to London I used the electronic passport machines. You put your passport it, it scans it, and then scans your face to see whether they match. Then the doors open and you go through immigration. No human contact and no need for border control agents any more. The machines do a better and more reliable job.
  • 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 safer than humans as most air disasters are down to human error). We just have to look at the military where unmanned aircrafts (so called drones) are taking over. Fighter jet pilots will be Air Force history soon.
  • Doctors: Robotic tools are already assisting surgeons to perform operations and doctors use large-scale databases of medical information to inform their decisions. However, I can imagine a scenario where a full body scanner takes a complete 3D image of you and where robots will perform an operation completely un-assisted. We now have the technology and computing power to perform surgery without the need for humans. And therefore without the risk of human error. Supercomputers will be able to make a solid diagnosis based on all previous medical knowledge (as well as data from your own medical history, DNA code, etc.), again without the input from human doctors.
  • Nurses: We can now buy diapers that tweet you when your baby needs to be changed. The latest evolution of this is to include diagnosis technology in diapers that analyze the urine and alert us to any abnormalities. Another example is a hospital unit that looks after premature and sick babies. The unit is now applying real time analytics based on a recording of every breath and every heartbeat of all babies in their unit. It then analyses the data to identify patterns. Based on the analysis the system can now predict infections 24hrs before the baby shows any visible symptoms. This allows early intervention and treatment that is so vital in fragile babies. With the advances in wearable technology and smart watches we will be able to monitor all aspects of our health 24hours a day. What jobs are left for nurses?
  • Customer Support Agents: 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. 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 machine instead.
  • Sports Coaches: We can now buy baseballs with sensors in them that send back information to your smart phone. There you can get the analysis and feedback of how to improve your game. Football and baseball teams already use cameras and sensors to track and analyze the performance of every player on the field, at any given point in time. For example, the Olympic cycling team in the UK uses bikes that are fitted with sensors on their pedals and collect data on how much acceleration every push on the pedal generates. This allows the team to analyze the performance of every cyclist in every race and every single training session. In addition, the team has started to integrate data from wearable devices (like smart watches) the athletes wear on their wrist. These devices collect data on calorie intake, sleep quality, air quality, exercise levels, etc. The latest innovation now is to integrate an analysis of social media posts to better understand the emotional states of athletes and how this might impact track performance.
  • 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. Newspapers of the future could be fully automated.

I think you are getting the picture, right? Some of these examples might paint pictures of the future, while others are already here and are redefining our job market as you read this.

I can’t think of many jobs that we can’t automate using big data analytics, artificial intelligence and robots. So where does this leave us and our jobs? Will we all become programmers? No. Could we all simply not work and let the machines do our jobs? Unlikely. I find this all a little scary but at the same time trust in our human ability to adapt. We managed to adapt during the industrial revolution when we moved from farm work to industrial labor. We also adapted when we moved from the industrial era to the knowledge economy.

What's clear, however, is that there is a call to action. You need to ensure you advance your career in a way that positions you at the forefront of these developments and that you stay away from jobs that will be the first to go. Overall, I am excited to see how we adapt to the world of big data robots!

What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts. Are you scared or excited? How do you think our world will change with the emergence of big data robots?

AboutBernard Marr is a globally recognized expert in strategy, performance management, analytics, KPIs and big data. He helps companies and executive teams manage, measure, analyze and improve performance. His new book is: Big Data: Using Smart Big Data, Analytics and Metrics To Make Better Decisions and Improve Performance.

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