Artificial Intelligence: The Nightmare Scenario

Ira Apfel

Have you heard the workplace horror story that’s making the rounds? It goes like this:

Employee is made redundant by robot.

Employee loses job.

The end.

The terrifying aspect to artificial intelligence and machine learning is not that it costs you your job. Everybody is fired or downsized at some time or another.

No, what keeps me up at night is the thought of a life without work, without a job. Would you retire at age 50 or 40 or even 30? How would you organize your time? How would you contribute to society – to say nothing of your household income?

But you can’t give in to your fears, and I won’t give in to the robots. And neither should you.

A recent Wall Street Journal article provided some perspective, especially for treasury and finance professionals. The article pointed out that spreadsheet software like Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 were earlier forms of AI and machine learning that made thousands of jobs obsolete – in this case, bookkeepers.

But here’s the thing. Many bookkeepers pivoted and became accountants. Some even earned their CPA accreditation. They probably ended up earning more money than they did as bookkeepers. And because, as I’m convinced, accounting is part science and part sorcery, they found a new way to add value to their employers – by advising on accounting and tax strategy.

In other words, these disintermediated bookkeepers found a way to beat the robots and remain relevant. And companies became more productive because spreadsheet software allowed them to automate a previously labor-intensive task and perform many more calculations than ever before.

So what can you do?

  1. Don’t panic! Think about your next step – specifically, ask yourself what you really do in your role.
  1. Be honest. Some of your daily tasks can be automated. This is a good thing! It means you can focus on value-added activities that AI can’t easily replicate.
  1. Always be thinking about ways to improve customer satisfaction or your role or your team. AI can automate processes, but it can’t think outside of the box, pose what-if questions, and spitball new ideas that dramatically differ from your current routine.

The lesson is clear. We need to use our imaginations to avoid obsolescence. AI can be trained to think – or reasonably approximate human thinking. What it lacks is our unrivaled ability to imagine and dream: “I lost my bookkeeping job. What am I gonna do? I know: I’ll leverage my skills and get an even better job!”

I love a happy ending.

To learn how you can make technology work for you, check out AFP MindShift at AFP 2017. You’ll find sessions, speakers, and exhibitors who will offer practical solutions to emerging technologies.

About Ira Apfel

Ira Apfel is Director of Communications & Editorial Content with the Association for Financial Professionals. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters. They have a Shiba Inu puppy named Milo that runs their lives.