Here’s What Deloitte’s CEO Told her Teenage Son About Robots

There’s a vast array of opinions out there about how many human job functions will be assumed by robots—and how many new roles they’ll create.

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert is an optimist, at least when challenged on the issue by her 15-year-old son.

“Mom, are robots going to take my job someday?,” he asked, according to a post by Engelbert on LinkedIn.

He’s not the only one concerned: A recent survey of people born in the 1980s and 1990s by the professional services firm found 40% saw automation posing a threat to their jobs, while 44% thought there would be less demand for their skills.

So what was Engelbert’s response: “Don’t worry—I’ve never met a machine with courage and empathy.”

“I BELIEVE THE FUTURE OF WORK MEANS COOPERATION BETWEEN HUMANS AND ROBOTS, MAKING US CO-BOTS.”

Her placating words ascribe to the commonly-held view that while artificial intelligence has advanced in leaps and bounds, humans are still miles away from creating replicate sentient beings.

To be sure, job-loss risk can largely come down to occupation. Robots will eliminate 6% jobs in the U.S. by 2021, mostly in transportation, logistics and customer service, according to a recent estimate by market research company Forester.

The big question is whether affected individuals will be able to make the transition to new occupations, via training and development. And whether enough new occupations will even exist to fill the gap.

Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff has warned of a digital “refugee” crisis if education opportunities aren’t made more abundant, though, like him, Engelbert is confident the replacement roles will be there to fill.

Jobs are made up of many tasks, so the nature of existing jobs will change and new careers will be created, Engelbert wrote. She went on to reference MIT economist David Autor, who observed that if you told a farmer in 1900 of the looming 95% reduction in farm employment, they wouldn’t have predicted we would be developing apps instead.

“I believe that the future of work means cooperation between humans and the robots. Making us, in the world of my teen, co-bots,” she said.

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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