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Technological Change Affects

The country is abuzz with politics but, in general, technological change affects the lives of workers to a greater degree. We all know that many manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots and other machines.

The service sector has not discussed technology replacing jobs as much in recent years, although when computers first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, that was the big fear. We all know that ATMs in banks are now normal, and many people skip bank tellers entirely.

Now, McDonald's is moving in the direction of ATMs for ordering. I find it likely that fifteen years from now a fast food experience will not involve people at all.

Human service will increasingly be an experience that people pay more for. And the pressure to deliver first rate service will cause substandard customer service experiences to drop dramatically. One key is the increasing quality of voice recognition software and artificial intelligence software. When Siri understands you correctly more often than a person, we need fewer people in jobs.

What does that mean for service industry jobs? They will increasingly be replaced by robots and machines except when the actual human interaction adds pleasure for the customer. Do you really want to be massaged by a robot? Or served by a robot at your anniversary dinner? Or -- for many folks -- have their hair cut by a robot? No. Why? Because you're not just getting your hair cut-- you're talking and listening and connecting to a person.

What advice do I have for those early in their careers? Try to find a career where you develop great judgment about how to solve problems for people where lots of tricky decisions are required, and really get good at human interaction.

If large numbers of customers can be reduced to picking one of a few options, then a computer can easily be programmed to do the job fast. Think for instance about how travel websites have replaced travel agents: find a cheap hotel in Chicago for next Tuesday. A machine can do that faster and cheaper than a person.

We are going to find new ways to provide service, just as we develop new products that used to seem unimaginable. Think of bottled water.

In sixteen years, political campaigns will be about the loss of service sector jobs to technology, just as today's campaigns are about the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Read the N.Y. Times article "McDonalds Introduces Screen Ordering and Table Service".

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