What 5 Leaders Think about Automation and the Jobs Market

What 5 Leaders Think about Automation and the Jobs Market

Emily Smykal

Will a robot take your job? That question used to be laughable unless you worked in manufacturing. Automation in factories has spurred economic growth and replaced workers for centuries. But Luddite claims of widespread unemployment typically rang hollow.

But our technological progress is shifting from machines that replace manual labor, to machines that replace brain power. Self-service checkout lines, ATMs, autopilot on your next flight—these are all tasks that used to require human action, and increasingly human knowledge. Now some of the white collar jobs previously considered beyond machines, like accountants and reporters, are also being automated.

Does this mean everyone should fear for their jobs? Not necessarily. Automation is increasingly taking over specific tasks, not entire jobs. For example, research from Boston University found that the rise of ATMs actually led to more bank tellers, as money saved from automating some transactions let banks expand their operations.

Researchers from Oxford University recently broke down 702 occupations to determine their susceptibility to computerization, based on the knowledge, skills, and abilities they require. Headlines warning that 47% of all jobs would be automated proliferated. But where are the advances in automation really happening, and how will they impact the job market? We turned to five leaders in technology, business and economics to gauge the status of robots in the workplace.

elon musk on automationElon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX

“We’re going to end up with complete autonomy, and I think we will have complete autonomy in approximately two years.”

Don’t worry, Musk wasn’t referring to the job market in a recent interview with Forbes. He was talking about driverless cars. Autonomous cars might sound exciting to you, but they’re a big worry for those whose job entails driving. Taxi drivers and truck drivers alike are paying attention to developments in self-driving cars.


“If you think about how you use, say, applications on the internet, you’ve got your email and… social media and apps on your phone — they effectively make you superhuman and you don’t think of them as being other, you think of them as being an extension of yourself.”

Here we learn more about Musk’s thoughts on artificial intelligence (AI) and its benefits for us. Musk is spearheading the OpenAI initiative, to develop and share advances in AI publicly and royalty-free. To consider how AI might be used by other tech leaders, we turn next to Amazon.

jeff bezozJeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

“These are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles… There’s an item going into the vehicle. I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.”

Amazon unveiled its plans for drone delivery back in 2013, and many watchers in eCommerce and delivery services scoffed. But Bezos is known for thinking big, and thinking long-term.

“This is all electric, it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around… These are autonomous. So you give ’em instructions of which GPS coordinates to go to, and they take off…”

amazon drone delivery and jobs

Developing drones that can deliver your Amazon order surely requires some intelligent machines. What if the drone drops a package on someone’s head? What if it’s raining and the package gets ruined? Whether drones can replace delivery drivers has yet to be determined, but you can bet Jeff Bezos is working on it.

Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber

“We don’t want to be like the taxi guys who came before us – we embrace the future.”

travis kalanick on automation
Speaking of driving, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has been paying attention to the future of AI in autonomous cars. Uber adds thousands of drivers to its ranks in cities worldwide, so why is Kalanick openly embracing driverless cars? Autonomous vehicle development is underway at tech companies and automakers, and Uber is intent on staying on the leading edge. It’s even opened a self-driving car lab in Pittsburgh.

“I believe they are already safer than my parents… and I would trust my kids with them.”

In fact, Kalanick reportedly said that if Tesla builds fully-autonomous vehicles by 2020, he’d buy every one. Kalanick even posed the question, “What are the new ways of making a living that now exist as the world goes robotic?” without providing an answer for his fleet of Uber drivers.

warrne buffet on automationWarren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

“If [self-driving cars] prove successful and reduce accidents dramatically, it will be very good for society and very bad for auto insurers.”

If you’re already tired of the hype around self-driving cars, you’re not alone. Warren Buffett, whose holding company Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico Insurance, thinks we’re a long way off from a driverless world. He certainly doesn’t expect to feel the impact of autonomous vehicles in his portfolio during his lifetime.

“Geico will be doing a lot more business five and 10 years from now. But 30 years from now? I won’t be around to know.”

larry summers on automationLawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary

“…It appears that technology is permitting very large-scale substitutions.”

As Secretary of the Treasury, Harvard President, and economic advisor to the Obama administration, Larry Summers knows a thing or two about changes in the job market. And he has now said he no longer agrees with the idea that automation always leads to more jobs.

“When George Eastman had a fantastic idea for photography, he got quite rich, and the city of Rochester became a flourishing city for generations, supporting thousands of middle-class workers. When Steve Jobs had had remarkable ideas, he and his colleagues made a very large fortune, but there was much less left over – there was no flourishing middle class that followed in their wake.”

So, where does this leave us?

If you drive a vehicle for a living, should you start training for a new job? If you think your role requires too much nuance for a computer, are you safe? The real answer is no one knows for sure which jobs will and won’t exist in the future. Looms and printing presses eliminated the need for weavers and handwritten texts. Yet demand for artisanal products has allowed those seemingly obsolete occupations to remain in certain niches.

For recruiters, the worry shouldn’t revolve so much around the stability of your job, but how your job needs to adapt to automation in the workforce. Computers and AI have actually pushed employers to hire more workers, and forced workers to develop more diverse skills. So recruiters need to pay attention to these trends, and embrace the automation of some of their own tasks.

That will free you up to focus on more value-added work like predicting your organization’s needs as it adopts more advanced technology. Competition for highly skilled workers is already fierce, so developing your talent pipeline and sourcing quality passive candidates will be crucial.

Candidates are consumers, and providing them with a consumer-quality experience will go a long way when few others are. Read our new eBook, “The Talent Acquisition Leader’s Guide to the New Candidate Journey” to learn more about this topic and what to do about it.new candidate journey ebookcareer site assessment


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