The 'march of the machines' is wildly overdone

Stefan Stern
14 October 2015

Could a robot replace you at work in the coming years? Not if, as a good purchaser, you recognise the difference between price and value

Relax. A robot is not going to take your job. Not now, not next week, next year or even five years from now. Some of this “march of the machines” talk is wildly overdone. You’re a human being, aren’t you? Well, stand up for yourself!

This is not, I think, the deluded wishful thinking of a late, late adopter of new technology. I do have a smart phone. I like the internet. I quite like online banking. But I know who I would rather work with if the choice is between an automated system and a living, breathing person. The machine would not get a look in.

We should not be complacent. Clearly, greater processing power, connectivity and sophistication mean that computers can do far more than they used to. Indeed, I probably don’t even realise how much algorithms are already running my life.

That’s ok. I am not a computer programmer nor was I meant to be. And we should be alert to the possibility of machines coming in to replace humans in certain places. They already are in supermarkets, banks, call centres and elsewhere.

But we should also ask, as Professor Steve Fuller of Warwick University does: “What is the added value in being human?” What can we do that machines never will? Good purchasers recognise the difference between price and value. They build constructive relationships which allow for the necessary give and take of business. Can a machine do that? I doubt it.

So my advice is: don’t fall for the hype. Work on your human skills. Get better at what you do, to stay ahead of mindless, robotic alternatives. But I am here to tell you that being human is a great thing and no inventor will ever quite match us. Ok? (Unless, of course, this article was really randomly generated by a machine.)

• Perhaps we relaxed too soon. Economic growth numbers were starting to look healthy. But then came big wobbles in China and a loss of nerve internationally. Maybe hard times are not over after all. The belt tightening may have to resume.

After all, it is not as though the quest to cut costs should ever really have ended. I picked up a useful phrase the other day which might be helpful at a time like this. A manager was asked why his cost base was lower than that of a rival but equally sized firm.

“Simple,” came the answer. “They do budgeting. We do housekeeping.”

If the pressure to keep expenditure down is about to crank up again, that sort of mentality will help. Think of your limited resources as though they were your own – as if it were your own family’s money you were spending. Remember the frugality of the well-run household in times of scarcity.

Budgets go up, sometimes indefinitely. Everyone fights for their bit of the pie. But budgets are also, so often, fictitious documents. Basically people are just guessing. But with the attitude of a good housekeeper money will not be wasted and good deals will be struck. So stop budgeting. Start housekeeping instead.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School

☛ Stefan Stern is visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School - See more at:
☛ Stefan Stern is visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School - See more at:
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