By Wayne R. Bodie, MBA, SPHR
Today’s human resources management profession has jettisoned far from its humble beginnings. So far that, with the advent of newer technologies, the ghostly specter of transactional personnel departments with their voluminous paperwork and manual record keeping, seems…well…other worldly, pre historic perhaps. Even after the outgrowth from headcount reporting to more expansive employee services, bleeding-edge technologies have revolutionized the industry even further.
Nowadays, as human resources professionals, you have seen your roles swell into true strategic business partners in every sense of the word. The average human resources generalist is a part attorney, psychologist, project manager, IT professional, and above all champion of human capital. To be fully proficient in this industry now requires an amazing skill package. But, given the dramatic evolution in the past 40 years, especially the milestones reached in the last 10, what effect will tomorrow have on this profession?
In a recording I recently watched of the World Economic Summit 2017, Elon Musk – the CEO of SpaceX and one of the guest speakers presenting, was asked, “What’s next in technology that will disturb the way the world lives and the way we do business?” What a great question for a savvy business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor with an estimated net worth of $16.1 billion, making him the 80th-wealthiest person in the world. In December 2016, Musk was ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People.
So given his credentials, I found his answer intriguing and thought-provoking. It made me question what challenges lie ahead for the human resources profession. While this probably won’t affect our generation, but if you have a science fiction bent as I do, you may ponder this question awhile too. In short, Elon Musk said, “The development of autonomous cars and artificial intelligence will have a significant ‘disruption’ on society and employment.” In his vision, “Almost all cars being built will be capable of full autonomy in about 10 years.”
He added, “Somewhere between 20 and 25 years in the future, potentially 12-15% of our society could be unemployed simply due to jobs lost by individuals employed as drivers.” He further warned, “Play close attention to the development of artificial intelligence…we have to be very careful how we adopt artificial intelligence.” He followed with, “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.”
Now, that got me to thinking. I already see dedicated self-automation in checkout lanes at Walmart, my orders from McDonald’s are done on a human-less Kiosk, and artificial intelligence has already reached a point that it can beat the best chess players in the world. If you have never heard of Google’s DeepMind project, there is AI software capable of learning to teach itself how to walk, run, jump, and climb all without someone teaching in a mere matter of hours. Now picture that technology, exponentially more advanced in 20 years, combined with the advancements that will be made in robotics. What will our future workforce look like? Can you picture that?
Elon Musk’s interview ended with this final question, “If you want to advise government officials to be ready for the future, what advice would you give them?”
“What are we to do about mass unemployment?” he asked. “This is going to be a massive social challenge. Um, and I think ultimately, we will have to have universal basic income. I don’t think we are going to have a choice.” From a human capital perspective, his answer evokes deep concerns.
There’s no way for the average layperson to prophesy the future, but there certainly will be mega shifts in business and the workforce if Elon Musk’s predictions come to pass. I can’t help but wonder if the future of Civil Rights and the Equal Opportunity Commission will be the prohibition of discrimination against humans in the workforce. At that point, Generation Z will hold the reins of futuristic Human Resources, and I wish them tremendous success navigating those waters. I surely hope by then, all of us here and now, are in retirement mode, sipping a spritzer, talking to our kids about the good old days and how things used to be.
If you are interested in watching the original interview, here’s the link to YouTube video listed below: