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Technology May Displace 47% of US Workers

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

The accelerated rate of technological advancements is transforming the composition of most businesses’ workforces. Most workplaces of the future will be staffed by some combination of smart robots, Artificial Intelligence smart machines and humans. In many cases, the number of human workers will be reduced, and, in many industries, that reduction will be significant.


Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the University of Oxford published a compelling study about the future workforce in September of 2013. They looked at 702 types of jobs in the United States and made judgments, on the basis of required skills and expected technological advances, about whether there was a low, medium or high risk that technology would displace workers in those jobs over the next 10 to 20 years.


Their conclusion: 47% of total U.S. employees have a high risk of being displaced by technology, and 19% have a medium risk. That means that 66% of the U.S. workforce has a medium to high risk of job destruction. That raises an important question for every person: What will we be able to do better than the smart machines? Frey and Osborne, along with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee who authored The Second Machine Age and John Kelly and Steve Hamm, authors of Smart Machines, believe that the activities humans will be better at doing will require either creativity, innovative thinking, complex critical thinking, moral judgments or high emotional and social intelligence.


Thinking critically and innovatively is hard emotionally.  Many neuroscientists, including Antonio Damasio and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, believe that our emotions influence and are integrally intertwined in most of our cognitive processing. In other words, rationality is a myth. Emotionally, we seek to affirm and defend our self image.  Additionally, fear comes all too naturally to most of us — and makes it hard for us to engage in the messy work of critical thinking and innovation. Fear of failure and fear of looking foolish are part of our human nature.


To really think critically and innovatively and to have high emotional and social intelligence, one has to learn how to overcome those natural cognitive and emotional proclivities. Almost all of those skills and capabilities need to be learned by doing — doing them enough to ingrain new habitual ways of behaving and thinking. This requires individualized developmental, real-time feedback, and a lot of hard work.

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