There are two facts about the future of work that you need to come to grips with:
- Your job is endangered.
- You, however, are not.
Let’s start with the first one.
It all comes down to Moore’s Law, the irrefutable given that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months. It has held true ever since Intel co-founder Gordon Moore first theorized it in 1965, and it will continue to hold true for years to come. That exponential growth in computing power has given us unimaginable technological advancements that impact every field on the planet, including accounting and finance. We’re already seeing functions like tax preparation, auditing, and financial planning falling prey to automation. Other tasks are sure to follow. It’s inevitable. Moore’s Law will see to it.
Think about that for a second: Most jobs that currently exist will one day, in the not-too-distant future, be done by machines. If you don’t believe that, consider this:
“Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm,” Wired magazine founder and best-selling author Kevin Kelly writes in The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. “Today, automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. … It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation — including the job you hold. In other words, robots are inevitable and job replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This broad automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.”
We might not be able to imagine a time when the jobs we do will be automated, but that’s only because we can’t imagine the technology that will need to exist to make that happen. Moore’s Law — that exponential increase in computing power — will take care of that. We simply need to accept that it will happen, because it will.
Which brings us to the second fact: You don’t have to become extinct. You simply need to learn new skills to ensure that you remain relevant to your clients and customers going forward. You need to learn to work with the machines. In The Inevitable, Kelly goes back to the farm for this analogy:
“The displaced (farmers) did not sit idle,” Kelly writes. “Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived … each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.”
And so it will be for us going forward. The technology that is automating our current jobs will create entirely new fields and huge new opportunities for those of us who are committed to Warren Berger’s concept of “serial mastery” — to the notion that the most important skill we will possess going forward is the ability to learn new skills.
“All of us — every one of us — will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up,” Kelly writes. “Here’s why: First, most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented, so naturally you’ll be a newbie to them. Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. ‘Endless Newbie’ is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.”
And that, of course, leads to this:
“The greatest things of the first half of this century are all before us,” Kelly writes. “All these miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-one-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit. … The truth: Right now, today, is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit-to-risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”
Taking advantage of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities means being willing to relearn and reinvent our careers — and to accept the fact that from now on, we’ll have to do that over and over and over again.
Welcome to the new normal. Let the transformation begin.