Are droids taking our jobs…or programming zombies?

Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs like building cars, writing articles, translating — jobs that once required a human. So what will we humans do for work? Andrew McAfee walks through recent labor data to say: We ain’t seen nothing yet.

I was working on a blog piece about Obama’s science policy and job creation when I came across this TED video with Andrew McAfee. I sometimes wonder why this discourse isn’t more public? In today’s competitive job environment, it can be difficult for individuals with a science background to find decent paying jobs in their field with or without a PhD (unless maybe you have a computer science or engineering degree). I can speak from personal experience. I had to turn down a position in behavioral neuroscience because it would have been impossible for me to deal with the immediate cost/benefit of the job; in other words, I have student loans and other financial obligations. Upon saying “No” to my dream position (studying memory and working with top neuroscientists), I took a position at a small interactive software company. Friends encouraged me to work in technology since my background involves cognitive neuroscience and art…and I do have a lot to offer. There is so much innovation around technology today and I felt very excited to become a part of that. The job was fine, however, it was disappointing that my background was barely utilized. Eventually the company came to realize what I had subtly suggested, the high importance of technical skills in the workplace. They were not willing to train me and it was an amicable departure. More importantly, I found the whole experience to provide insight into current problems faced in today’s competitive workplace.

It’s a hard fact that jobs today require more and more technical skills, however, training may not be a priority for small businesses. The high demand for jobs now equates to holding some sort of competency in computer science. There are plenty of free training sites now available to acquire a general knowledge base of such skills, but as we privilege technology, have we forgotten the high importance of other science jobs? Social sciences? How can non-zombie individuals be integrated into the current work environment to bring innovation to new products and strategies? I wonder if we are instead keeping up with the technology that brilliant minds created. Technical skills are critical, but should it be at the expense of individuals with ideas and the proper training to provide quality? If “droids” are performing technical jobs already, then perhaps employers may need to re-evaluate the importance of other human factor skills.

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