Will robot eat your job?

Will robots one day eat us? Maybe, in the next blockbuster movie. Will robots one day eat our jobs? Possible, in real life. I've been fascinated by the latter for quite some time. As of late, fascinations have morphed into fear: Watson, the IBM supercomputer that won Jeopardy in 2012, is going to Medical School.

How could a computer practice medicine? While a machine can certainly act 'brainy,' the idea of having a robot perform a triple bypass seems to me like something out of a horror movie.

None of us are surprised that robots are replacing simple, repetitive tasks. Robotic arms in automobile manufacturing and self-checkout machines in supermarkets have been replacing the low-skill blue and white collar jobs for the past 20 years. However, most of us continue to believe is that complex decision making, a skill that is polished through years of education and on-the-job experience, is safe and irreplaceable.

Our friend Watson would respectfully disagree. Watson has been proved to be more adept than humans at diagnosing cancer

Understand how we measure up to the machines

We can raise against or race with the machines, the choice is ours to make. No matter which route you decide to take, it is useful to understand where you stand compared to them. Daron Acemoglu and David Autor of MIT have come up with a useful framework to help us figure this out. It's a matrix, dividing cognitive work versus manual work, and routine versus non-routine... ok, let's try something more fun. Let us apply this framework in the context of a restaurant.

a. If you are the chef

Chef: Chopping. Sauteing. Plating. If you are a famous chef, imaging new dishes that create desires and demands is also part of the skill set. Besides the occasional mono-tasking, noodle-making robot, robots have poor eye-hand coordination skill and cannot compete with humans. And while our friend Watson has been dreaming up new recipes with the Culinary Institue of American, I'll definitely want a human chef to do a test-drive before it's served.

Verdict: Chefs, you are safe. Also, a robot chef will be much less entertaining than Gordon Ramsey at Kitchen Nightmares.

B. If you are the maître d' 

Once upon a time, if you wanted to make a restaurant reservation, you called the maître d' to reserve a table; if you wanted to buy take-out, you call. Nowadays, we make reservations through Yelp or Opentable; we order take-out food by Grubhub. The routine job of registering information can be easily replaced by a computer program.

Verdict: Sorry maître d', robot is already half way through your job.

C. If you are an Accountant

Training, CPA exam - that is the ticket to a solid white collar job called the accountant. Let me ask you a question: Who use Turbo Tax to file tax? I see many hands in this imaginary room. While accountants need to be smart, arcane tax rules can easily be codified into a computer program.

Accountants, you want to make a career transition into the field of financial planning? There are robot financial advisors too. Sorry.

Verdict: Sorry, the robot is already and well on its way.

D. If you are a graphic designer

A graphic designer creates great logos and websites that fit with the mood and style of the restaurants that enhance the dining experience. Design is part art, part science, reading all the design rulebooks will not make you, or a computer, come up with the logo of Apple Computer.

Verdict: You are safe. Robots cannot yet dream of something with no rules to guide them. Not yet. You may be replaced by an awesome designer from Eastern Europe, but that's another story.

Whether robot will eat its way to your job has little to do with whether you use muscle power or brain power at work. Any task that can be easily described as a set of rules has the potential to be replaced. With the advancement of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, computers can soon be better in complex decision-making, in everything from medicine, supply chain, loan approval, and marketing. Figuring out how you can be a complement to the machine will be the key to success in the future workplace.

Do you think robot will eat your job in the next 5 years?