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Geoff Colvin

August 6, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight

Geoff Colvin: Why Humans Will Triumph Over Machines

Dan Schawbel of Forbes.com recently spoke to Geoff Colvin about the impact automation and robotics will have on the global workforce, the industries that are prone to automation, how workers can thrive in an automated world and more. Geoff is Fortune magazine’s senior editor at large and is one of North America’s most respected journalists. He lectures widely and is the regular lead moderator for the Fortune Global Forum. He also appears daily on the CBS Radio Network, reaching seven million listeners each week. His previous book, Talent is Overrated, was a bestseller and has been translated into a dozen languages. His new book is called Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will:

Dan Schawbel: What impact will automation and robotics have on the global workforce?

Geoff Colvin: The impact is already profound and is becoming more so. Technology continues to get rapidly better while its cost falls. Workers, by contrast, aren’t getting much better, but their cost tends to rise. So, at an increasing rate, employers are replacing workers with technology in new ways, some of them quite surprising.

Schawbel: What industries and professions are most prone to becoming automated?

More than you think. Technology is moving into fields it previously couldn’t handle, including highly intellectual and highly physical jobs. For example, computers now perform discovery in lawsuits better than lawyers do, and a machine can prepare and serve hamburgers more reliably than people can. The most endangered jobs are those that don’t involve any deep, substantive interaction with people.

Schawbel: What can workers do in order to ensure they aren’t replaced by robots?

They can and must become champions at the skills of human interaction – empathy above all, social sensitivity, collaboration, storytelling, solving problems together, building relationships. And then they must be sure that their work demands these skills. The reason is that we’re hardwired by 100,000 years of evolution to value deep interaction with other humans (and not with computers). Those wants won’t be changing anytime soon.

Schawbel: Do you believe that new jobs will surface as legacy jobs are automated? Explain.

Absolutely, and one of the opportunities of our era is foreseeing those new jobs before others do. At the dawn of the Internet, few people could see the future need for search engine optimizers or mobile app developers, but they became highly valuable jobs. I confess that I’m not sure what the next new jobs will be, but we can take comfort in knowing that they’ll appear.

Schawbel: What training/skills do workers need in order to remain valuable and relevant?
They need to get better at the skills of human interaction, and those are very different skills from the kind we’re accustomed to learning. They’re not left-brain, classroom-taught skills, and in fact many people think they can’t be trained at all. But they can be. Enterprises as diverse as the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford Business School, and the U.S. Army have seen the future and are training those skills today. We all need to learn from what they’re doing and emulate it.

Dan Schawbel/Forbes/August, 2015