Why working in tech means you’re about to be redundant

I work in tech. I’ve happily done so for the last 10 years. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to witness first hand just how profound the industry has been in changing the world as we all know it.

While I work in tech, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between tech and high tech. High tech is considered cutting edge and the most advanced technology available.

The reality is that most tech startups you and I know are not high tech. They’re software businesses that are very innovative in their marketing, sales and business models. It’s unlikely they hold very many, if any patents. It’s unlikely the technology used to build them are considered the most ground breaking technology available. In fact, the technology used to build them were likely open source and built by skillful, clever engineers, but not rocket scientists.

I’m certainly not saying these businesses are not important or impressive in any way. I’m also not saying the employees or founders aren’t incredibly clever and talented. I’m just saying it’s probably not high tech.

To date, this hasn’t really mattered. Just about anyone could create a tech company. Sure, it helps if they can code, design and have a good technical understanding. However, you certainly don’t need to know how to build neural networks or a rocket that could take the next satellite to space.

As I reflect on the last 10 years and see what has changed and the friends that have helped create that change, I can’t help but feel like the wind is about to turn.

No, I’m not talking about a tech bubble or some other temporary crisis. I’m talking about the tech industry being disrupted by the high tech industry.

I’m talking about artificial intelligence, deep learning, neural networks, the new space race (Space X, Blue Origin) etc.

It’s very exciting and I’m convinced it will make almost everyone’s life better.

In saying that, I do feel somewhat deflated. The tech industry has been very inclusive in its gold rush. You could be an expert in sales, design, customer service, growth etc. They’re all important roles in the tech world and they’ve been making other industries and roles redundant for years.

Unfortunately, I think it’s the tech industry’s turn.

I’m convinced these new technologies will spur new businesses that essentially make people that work in the tech industry redundant.

This would be fine if these tech people could be at the helm of these businesses. However, they don’t need tech people, they need high tech people.

They need AI specialists and access to plentiful data. From there, they can learn and train themselves. Competitive advantages won’t be based on who has a better design, who provides the best customer service, who does the most efficient marketing or who can build the latest features with the fastest response times.

All of this will be automated and updated based on the quality of their AI algorithms and the amount of quality data the algorithms have.

Automated design

When artificial intelligence is applied to design, it can AB test on colours, fonts, copy, layouts. If the quality and quantity of the data is good enough, the algorithms will be able to apply fixes automatically until it’s perfected. This isn’t so different to what’s happening today. The difference is that today, we have human designers doing the same thing. The good ones do it based on data and testing. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to get rid of all the humans and apply the algorithms instead. It will be faster, better (in most cases) and a lot more cost effective.

Automated sales

How many sales emails have you noticed with an unsubscribe button at the bottom? The messaging usually seems personalised and you can definitely reply to them. Seems legitimate. Unfortunately, they’re automatically sent by software with algorithms that try to optimise messaging, timings and provide the sender with all sorts of analytics to optimise the future of their sales funnels. Now imagine applying AI to that. Why do you need a human at all? Maybe one or two extremely senior people to close the deal when needed, but everyone else? Nope.

Automated customer service

People are still figuring out how bots can be used. There are going to be all sorts of interesting use cases that I can’t imagine, however, one of the obvious ones that are already working is bots. If you look at Intercom, this is clearly a direction they’re going in. Plug sophisticated AI into these chat bots and there’s no need for humans.

Automated development

This one is far more controversial. It’s fairly easy to imagine how sales, design and customer service could be replaced by AI, but development?!

We now have so many open source code depositories, developers are able to stitch basic products together almost exclusively on these. As these depositories grow and AI is introduced to them to optimise and contribute, you can imagine how they can be used to fix bugs and add new features. This is probably a little further away than some of the other examples I gave, though it’s definitely on its way.

So, if we can’t work for these high tech companies, can we create them?

Sure, if you’re an AI specialist with machine learning skills. Or a rocket scientist.

Apple just posted 86 jobs for AI experts. Google, Microsoft and Amazon are being just as aggressive. When was the last time any of these companies hired so agressively in any particular skill set? Never.

Look at what VCs are investing in.

I’d like to say that the good news is that there’s still a long way to go before the tech world is done disrupting the analogue world. The only thing is that the analogue world will skip the tech world and move straight into the high tech world.

India and Africa skipped dial up Internet and PCs and jumped straight to wireless technology and smartphones. I think a similar story will play out for high tech trumping tech in these developing countries.

Once upon a time, people used to say ‘just learn to code’. Most people with some time and patience can definitely do that. Learning how to be a rocket scientist, or AI specialist? Maybe not.

If you’d like to learn more about AI and machine learning, I highly recommend listening to this:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/170189199