Alongside all of the challenges of the role, in more recent weeks, there has been speculation that at least some elements of the scope of the role could become automated further – indeed, potentially replaced by software or a robot – simply science fiction we may like to think?
At the start of this futuristic debate, the BBC web site featured a report that suggests that a number of established roles and careers may be under threat from Artificial Intelligence (AI) – see “Will a robot take your job” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34066941. On investigation, some PAs picked up that on entering the search term “Personal Assistant” the Oxford University and Deloitte study provides a result of 68 per cent likelihood of automation in the next 20 years, placing the role as high as 125th on the list of 366 jobs that may be at risk.
Once you step back from the idea that the role has been rather offensively classified as “lower-skilled” – which we all know is not the case – our minds are quickly drawn to the recent TV series earlier this year, ‘Humans’, where synthetic human looking robots ‘support’ the real humans in their day-to-day activities. Given that this is not April 1st, and that the author of this feature is not directly related to either R2D2 or C-3PO of Star Wars or similar ‘robotic machine’, perhaps we must ask, how likely is this to actually happen – or, as Star Trekkies might say, “is this the end of life as we know it”?
Published last month, this recent article, ‘This Startup Could Put An End To Personal Assistants’ – see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/startup-could-put-end-personal-assistants-caroline-fairchild, puts forward an example of some tasks that could more easily become automated?
We may hear you ask, ‘is this just an elaborate joke’?
Well, if it is, it’s quite an expensive folly.
General web based research suggests that this really is a committed longer-term project, and perhaps as serious as the potential impact of self-drive cars on the chauffeur profession. Having raised 2.1 Million US Dollars back in January 2014, and a further 9.2 Million reported as being raised in January this year, the innovator’s web site ‘x.ai’ invites anyone to sign up to try it out – for what we understand to be at this stage, an appointment setting service – see https://x.ai/how-it-works/.
Might all of this actually happen? Affordable AI is beginning to be developed very quickly for commercial applications, but those of us that already have experience of voice activated devices know that it is currently ‘indifferent’ in performance, particularly if you are on the move at the time of the interaction. However, technology also moves on at speed, and applications in the more ‘controlled environments” – such things as telephone answering systems – are quickly progressing from “press option” to the more interactive “say, yes or no” responses.
History suggests that with such innovative developments in business, only time will tell how successful interactive products/services will be adopted by users. The cost factor will of course be a significant influencer. Let’s hope we are a long way from those PA employer surveys of the future beginning to ask – ‘do you have a PA or automated software or a robot’?
Of course, modern day PAs now bring much more to the role than appointment setting, and perhaps this is just a matter of a task that can be automated, then allowing the “real-life” PA to have more time to do deal with other alternative tasks?
Should this happen in the future, then it’s likely that we will need to embrace change and move on – but let’s just hope that common sense prevails, and that highly capable human beings do fit into the future solutions and business activities, somewhere, somehow!