Futurist Martin Ford on the “big disruption coming” to anyone who sits in front of a computer all day

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If your job involves sitting in front of a screen all day, be prepared for a “big disruption coming”, says futurist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford.

Speaking to SmartCompany ahead of his appearance at the Creative Innovation 2016 Asia Pacific conference in Melbourne next month, Ford says the people wanting to know what sector will be next to be disrupted are “asking the wrong question”.

“It’s not about specific sectors, it’s about the nature of the work you’re doing. If you’re doing something predicable or routine, doing something encapsulated in the data, you’re at risk of being replaced,” Ford says.

Ford is the founder of a software firm and the author of several books, including Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. At Creative Innovation, he will be speaking about how rapidly evolving technology will continue to affect jobs and workplaces.

“Every industry will be impacted in some respect; we’re already seeing it happen with self-driving cars and fast food,” he says.

“If someone else could do your job from watching you do it there is potential for disruption,” he says.

Benefits for businesses

Despite at least some of Ford’s work addressing how technology will render some jobs obsolete, he believes small businesses and entrepreneurs can use technological advancement to their advantage.

“Small business and entrepreneurs will have access powerful tools out there to leverage their businesses. In the coming years it will be critical to understand something about these technologies, and to have an understanding of them enough to utilise them,” he says.

Read more: Why businesses that focus on customer experiences will come out in front

Ford sees rapid advancement in virtual reality and artificial intelligence but recognises this development could lead to fewer jobs in the long run.

“A lot of job creation comes from SMEs, but most new business started are now just one person,” he says.

“These days it’s more like self-employment, and it’s not going to create a lot of jobs for other people.”

Ford believes leveraging new technologies will be essential for businesses to keep up with competitors, claiming it’s about more than just cutting costs.

“There is a competitive imperative to leverage new technologies, to streamline businesses and make things more efficient. It’s not just about cutting costs,” Ford says.

“You will have to do it or you won’t be competitive, it’s that simple.”

Attend conferences and hire right

For businesses wanting to keep up with the latest trends to stay on top of the competition, Ford advises attending conferences and utilising online resources, warning these developments will only move “faster and faster”.

He believes there will be totally new industries emerging in coming years, ones no one will be able to predict.

“There will be new industries and new types of work. A website designer didn’t exist decades ago, and jobs like that will come into existence,” he says.

But the nature of work in these new industries will be fundamentally different, he says.

“Virtual reality, nanotech, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that [the industries] are not that labor intensive and they won’t create large numbers of jobs,” Ford says.

For businesses wanting to prepare for an unpredictable future, Ford believes the best thing to do is to hire versatile workers.

“There’s a strong argument for hiring strong adaptable individuals, you need people who will adapt,” he says.

“One problem we’re seeing in the US is that companies don’t want to invest in training for employees, [they] want to find people fully equipped for that job, which makes finding adaptable people a real problem.”

One thing Ford knows for certain is there’s a big disruption coming, even in sectors like journalism.

“Automation will have a big impact in financial services industries, and we’ll even see it in journalism. Already programs are cranking out stories,” he says.

“For anyone sitting in front of a computer, there’s a big disruption coming.”

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Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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  • Rohan

    So if technology replaces people, then they are building in an obsolescence to their own existence. After all people, and their income derived from their work input drives the economy, not machines. Machines, including IT based machines are mere tools.

    The Australian Economy is a classic case in point. There are less that 50% of the population now deriving their income from the private sector paying net taxes and value adding. The greater majority derive it from the government, either through being on the government payroll or welfare. IE no value adding. So as this slides further and further into the out-house, the economy collapses and then there’s nothing for everyone. A socialist utopia, if eating food scraps from a dumpster or canned pet food like they are in Venezuela is anything to aspire to.

    If you remove enough people from the economic process, then the economy will collapse, then there is no longer any need for advancing technology. How does this genius deal with that?

    • sjm

      As we see in the current season the Block what once a thriving factory creating products and work for many people now is is a property developers bonanza.
      Technology and AI and Chinese imports wont make property development go out of business. Who needs factories or R&D laboratories when we can all get into property flipping and building more units.