Why Your Job Is Over

Job automation
Don’t worry, my job may disappear soon, too. In fact, a recent Oxford University study predicted that nearly half of US jobs will be replaced by technology over the next two decades. Given the advances of machine learning (including deep learning) that we have witnessed since the study was published, this estimate is likely on the conservative side.
At the same time, this transformation of jobs is not new. The industrial age is over and we are now in the midst of a post-industrial age, but not yet in the looming information age (or whatever we may call it when we get there!).


Times Are Changing

The global economic landscape has previously experienced a similar sea change. The transition from an agrarian economy to manufacturing throughout the 18th and 19th centuries was quite painful, but ultimately has brought about tremendous achievements. Labor was transformed from being handled by skilled artisans using their own tools to being performed by less skilled workers following sequences of highly specialized tasks.

The Oxford study points out that Eli Whitney, a pioneer of interchangeable parts and the inventor of the cotton gin, described the objective of this technology “to substitute correct and effective operations of machinery for the skill of the artist which is acquired only by long practice and experience”.
By the same token, we see processes and tasks broken down into easily digestible units for modern technology to take over sooner rather than later. Consider that a process is an algorithm, and a task is a variable. Once an algorithm is in place, it’s much more cost-effective and efficient for a machine to perform it.

While the elite is working on AI, wider masses are working on IA (intelligence amplification through unitizing tasks and processes in order to make it easier for AI to handle them). Approaching the problem from both sides, we are expediting change.

Automation From Cab Rides to Delivery

Every industry is undergoing this transformation. Uber’s car service is a good example of a process being taken over by technology. Currently, the Uber customer experience entails you ordering a car, waiting for a driver, sometimes negotiating where exactly you should be picked up, and then rating the driver at the end of the ride. You don’t need to talk to the driver, except for occasionally asking him to turn off the music or to get off his own loud call when you are trying to use the phone. From that perspective, the experience is similar to taking a cab. When the driver is replaced by a driverless vehicle, you may continue to rate your experience. The ordering process will likely remain as it is now. With that system in place, consumer experience will not change much when the human driver element is ultimately phased out.

I can see potentially similar developments in the food ordering and delivery space (NB: I’m on the board of Delivery Hero, a leading global food ordering company). Generally, people order takeout from restaurants they don’t visit in person. Both anecdotal evidence and the numbers support that. Ultimately, a pizza is a pizza, a falafel sandwich from one place is quite similar to another, and Chinese takeout is known to be rather uniform. The ordering process is already pretty painless, whether on the web or through your mobile device. You can even include a tip in the order, and not deal with cash at all when the food is delivered. You rarely talk to the food delivery guy. So when the delivery process is replaced by technology, whether drones or something similar, consumers will not notice a significant change in their experience. In fact, consumers may not notice if the food was prepared by robots in a food management facility, with no retail space at all.

Processes are streamlined through technology, labor is unitized: now work can be outsourced or otherwise performed in a more efficient manner.

Process as Commodity

At Knotable, where I’m also a board member, CEO Amol Sarva has pioneered a process that let’s the company develop and release code much faster and at lower cost. He calls it “Code as Cards”, and wrote a book about it called “Ship While You Sleep“. The process is simple: recruit hourly-paid coders from all over the world through freelancer networks, break down development into clearly defined tasks, assign the tasks and watch the code flow in. For best results, establish peer review in the development process. Make sure all code is stored centrally, through GitHub or some other repository. This process of unitizing a product or a feature into concrete tasks, allows Knotable to treat its development force as a network, a highly flexible and efficient mechanism where more skilled developers are replaced with less skilled ones, similarly to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.

Venture capital is undergoing a similar transformation. While it started as a highly relationship-driven business, it is now moving to a stock-market flavored modus operandi. Kite Ventures is a good example of this approach. Instead of having a fund, we operate though a network of investment partners. Companies like this, because they understand that Kite has a much higher probability of participating (we may, but not necessarily will) in future fundraising. This is driven primarily by the fact that we are not limited by fund size – so whereas early stage investors may simply be limited by the amount of capital they manage, Kite can continue plugging on. Of course there are exceptions, and many larger venture capital management companies have multiple funds, some of which are specifically allocated to later stage deals. However, most of the time they are precluded from leading (or pricing) earlier investments or even participating in the rounds (for example, if the new proposed investment is a downround). We have also unitized the process and made it more efficient. As I’ve pointed out before, Kite has minimal staff and we run the business with no meetings.

Opportunity is Knocking

When several sectors of the economy are touched by the same phenomenon or use new technology in very similar ways, it is likely that other industries then will follow suit. Jobs will disappear, but new ones will be created (as was the case when the industrial economy emerged). For entrepreneurs and investors, like myself, opportunities abound. Unitization makes industries simpler and more transparent, making them more accessible for newcomers

There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur exploring and exploiting changes across a multitude of sectors. So don’t worry about your job title disappearing. Think of a company that is transforming an old industry, such as transportation, food, or human labor itself, and join it… or if you have it in you, start a new company of your own.

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