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Only Humans Need Apply

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Only Humans Need Apply

Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How to ensure your relevance in the age of smart machines.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


The automation of tasks is now a threat to all jobs, from menial work to “knowledge work.” Business experts Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby present the challenges facing employees, today and in future generations. They encourage workers at all levels to prepare. They offer startling predictions about the speed at which smart machines will take over tasks that now require employees with extensive experience and education. This practical guide to remaining relevant in the years ahead proves to be a smart, important read for career planning. getAbstract encourages employees, managers and executives to take heed.


Three Eras of Automation

Early automation transferred dangerous work to machines, thus improving safety. These technologies introduced more jobs, albeit different ones. In the next stage, automation took over boring and repetitive tasks and allowed human work to become more interesting. Now machines are encroaching on “knowledge work,” the final domain of human intelligence.

Economic Impact

Knowledge workers drive innovation and represent a quarter of the workforce. Scientists, professors, lawyers, doctors, accountants, airline pilots, and many other professionals previously impervious to automation are now at risk. Computer automation will eliminate 47% of the jobs in the United States. For example, in 1980, Wall Street boasted 5,500 traders, but by 2014, only 500 remained. Electronic trading is more cost-efficient and productive.

Machines Can Act and Learn

Machines are good at number analysis, processing words and images, performing digital tasks like changing passwords, and carrying out physical tasks, like the lifting, sorting and packing work that robots at Amazon’s warehouses perform.

Machines that are programmed to do ...

About the Authors

Thomas H. Davenport, a fellow of MIT’s Center for Digital Business, co-founded the International Institute for Analytics and is a professor at renowned business schools. He has written 17 books. Julia Kirby is a contributing editor at The Harvard Business Review.

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