Home / Tech / `Elevating the role of the human': A group of powerful CEOs shares why the common wisdom about automation and robots stealing jobs is so clearly wrong

`Elevating the role of the human': A group of powerful CEOs shares why the common wisdom about automation and robots stealing jobs is so clearly wrong

barbara humpton

  • A group of CEOs pushed back against the theory that the rise of robots and automation will mean fewer jobs for humans. 
  • The group, which included Siemens USA’s Barbara Humpton, EY’s Carmine Di Sibio and Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon, spoke at the 22nd annual Milken Institute Global Conference. 

It’s become accepted wisdom: The 21st century rise of robots and automation will mean fewer jobs for humans. 

The logic seems unassailable. As computers learn to do more of the tasks typically done by humans, it will leave humanity with less to do. A report from British insights firm IHS Markit suggests automation could lead to 1.3 million job losses or reassignments for bank workers in the US by 2030. Citigroup president Jamie Forese said last year that robots could replace as many as 10,000 human jobs within five years.

But a group of CEOs assembled earlier this week at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills fought against that stereotype, and made the case for why working people should embrace the coming wave of automation.

At Siemens, the Germany-based infrastructure behemoth, automation is becoming a bigger part of the business and that should be seen as a boon to employees, according to Barbara Humpton, the CEO of firm’s US unit. After making its first big software purchase a decade or so ago, Siemens is now one of the largest software companies in the world, she said. 

“Does this mean robots will keep taking over our jobs?” Humpton asked. “The answer is very clearly no. Where we’re headed is actually elevating the role of the human. Where we’re going is expanding what is humanly possible.”

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Siemens offers every employee something called a “digital readiness” check, an evaluation they can take on their own to better understand their tech skills and where they might need to add coursework or experience, Humpton said. 

The CEOs may have been putting on a brave face to preserve employee morale, but some of the numbers support their thesis. The financial-services industry, for example, has added jobs in New York City in four of the last five years, according to the New York State comptroller. 

At consultancy EY, the firm has created artificial intelligence techniques, incluing natural language processing, to read contracts faster and more “holistically” than employees, according to incoming CEO Carmine Di Sibio. The tech has enabled employees to do more interesting things, which should help retention, he said. 

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“We’re very excited about how that’s changing our business,” Di Sibio said. “You might say is that taking away jobs, even from us? And it’s not. It’s really having our people do more interesting things at a younger level which hopefully will enable us to retain our people more than in the past.” 

In all, some of the CEOs, including Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon, said they’re viewing changes as evolutionary to their business models and practices, rather than some huge disruptive force. 

“Disruption has a very strong connotation to it,” Solomon said. “I would say we’re evolving the business, for sure.”

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