PRODUCTHEAD: The new lamplighters
exit music (for a product manager)
Posted on Monday, 22 March 2021
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Amazon warehouses are gradually moving towards full robotic automation
Greater automation creates new types of work, but not necessarily for people
Smart contracts are already automating financial transactions, but can be susceptible to coding flaws
Increased use of machine learning in insurance places greater burden on regulators to ensure fairness
Robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation. These concepts can trigger profoundly different reactions in people depending on their context.
For some, they reflect a positive future — technologies that help them to perform mundane tasks more efficiently, freeing them to focus on higher order work.
For others, they portend a bleaker future, in which their job, their source of income, even their sense of societal worth is usurped by technology.
The lamplighter is often the metaphor used for new technology making human workers redundant — in this case, electric street lamps. It is perhaps ironic to note that lamplighters themselves were a new job created as a result of technological evolution.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the few city street lamps that existed were fuelled by expensive whale oil. When gas extracted from coal became available as a cheaper alternative fuel, more widespread street lighting became economical. And so lamplighters were now needed to light the lamps each night.
As electricity began to displace gas in street lamps in the early 1900s, the lamplighters gradually became redundant, their jobs a victim of automation.
When I was working for the UK’s Ministry of Justice, a frequent concern voiced was that the digitisation of public services would gradually remove the need for civil servants to perform increasingly redundant tasks such as paper form processing. The fear was that, with more automation, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around and people would lose their jobs.
This is an example of economist David Schloss’s Lump of Labour Fallacy. The mistake being made is to assume that there is a fixed, finite amount of work to be divided up, and that automation leaves less work for people to do. Instead, automation helps to change the nature of the work to be done, creates new tasks and increases the amount of the work available.
We are all the new lamplighters. The nature of our work continues to change and evolve, and as sure as some job roles will become defunct, so also will new job roles come into existence that defy prediction.
In 1999, as we sat worrying about whether the Y2K bug would cause the modern world to crash, do you think anybody was forecasting how lucrative it would be to move into growth hacking or social media influencing?
So this week I’ve pulled together some thought-provoking content on the way technology is continuing to transform whole industries, and the implications of that constant evolution.
Speak to you soon,
what to think about this week
Amazon is leading a robotics race that will have a seismic impact on the warehouse industry, which employs more than 1.1 million Americans today.
[JASON DEL REY / VOX]
“Will machines replace humans?” This question is on the mind of anyone with a job to lose. Daniel Susskind confronts this question and three misconceptions we have about our automated future, suggesting we ask something else: How will we distribute wealth in a world when there will be less — or even no — work?
[DANIEL SUSSKIND / TED]
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We live in an age of disruption — and the legal industry is not immune. “Smart contracts” has been receiving particular attention, with its potential to bring about both efficiencies in legal work… and also new kinds of legal challenges.
The growing use of artificial intelligence to price insurance could erode basic legal protections built into the law to protect both individuals and the insurance market. To prevent discrimination and ensure fairness, regulators must begin to develop new capacities and tools.
[RICK SWEDLOFF / PROMARKET]
I am searching for a career change and Product Management/ Project Management are my areas of interest. I was looking to understand, based on your experience, if in such roles technical skills are required?
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Starting a new product manager job can be daunting, particularly if you don’t change jobs very often. I work freelance, so I find myself in a new organisation roughly every 3–6 months. Let me share with you my tips for your first few months in a new role.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Because I tend to help organisations build up their product team from scratch, I’m often involved in the interviewing and hiring process, so I’d like to share with you my product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
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