Are Droids Taking Our Jobs?

July 3, 2014


Are droids taking our jobs? Yes.

That was the answer given by Andrew McAfee in his 2012 TED Talk. Was he right?

McAfee says, “We’ve seen digital tools display skills and abilities that they never, ever had before, and that, kind of, eat deeply into what we human beings do for a living.” One example he gives is language translation. “Throughout all of history, if you wanted something translated from one language into another, you had to involve a human being. Now we have multi-language, instantaneous, automatic translation services available for free via many of our devices all the way down to smartphones.”

So, have language translation apps taken the place of language learning? Not entirely, but maybe they’ve reduced the need for it. The share price of Rosetta Stone, a leading maker of language learning software, has tumbled more than 60% since it went public in early 2009. Other language education companies have seen similar declines in recent years. Although these share price declines reflect numerous factors, many of which are unrelated to the “droids” idea, I’m confident that the decline in these businesses and the demand for language learning in general is due in part to these new technologies that McAfee refers to.

Are droids taking our tax prep jobs? Well, technology has certainly changed the profession over the years. In the past, tax return preparation consisted of paper forms completed in pencil or pen. Those forms were couriered back and forth between accounting offices and data centers where the calculations were done on mainframe computers. Then, the personal computer and tax software eliminated couriers and data centers from the process but tax return preparation was still paper based and manual. Today’s OCR technologies are changing the process even further by reducing the time spent on manual tasks like document organization and data entry.

However, I’ve yet to meet someone that became an accountant because they enjoyed key punching data into tax software. Accountants are trusted advisors. You use your professional expertise to help clients plan their financial goals. Reducing the amount of time you spend on redundant, mundane tasks like data entry only frees up time that can be spent adding real value to your clients. In a sense, the tax document automation droids can elevate the profession.

So, was McAfee right? Yes and no. The droids are certainly changing our jobs. But taking them? I’m not holding my breath. I do however; await with great anticipation, the droids that will do my laundry.

Click here to view Andrew McAfee’s 2012 TED Talk

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