In one of her general education classes, Kat (not her real name), a senior high school student, vividly recalled her teacher telling the class that accountants, engineers, and other professionals will eventually go extinct. Robots will soon replace these professionals, and that technology will phase out the need for such people. Kat is now wondering if she still needs to go to college and pursue a profession.
In Saudi Arabia, Sophia became the first robot to receive citizenship in any country. Sophia, a social humanoid robot, can completely interact with other human, perform tasks, and even talk about women’s rights! Other countries are now competing to develop humanoids and forge ahead in technological advancement.
We are now living in an era beyond the mass production and digital computerization revolutions. We are now on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or FIRe.
FIRe: The Fourth Industrial Revolution
In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum Founder Professor Klaus Schwab discussed that previous industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible, and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. FIRe is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, affecting all disciplines, economies, and industries and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.
We have recently seen the convergence of the digital world and the physical world, from the prevalence of online shopping and travel bookings to the use of cryptocurrencies and social media. As Filipinos, we have seen how social media has played a crucial role not only in business, but moreso on our geopolitical landscape. Having a website is not just having a digital address, but a bridge between the digital and physical worlds.
FIRe did not just occur overnight. Rather, it is a result of humankind’s thirst to improve their way of life and to be more efficient and inclusive. This revolution has connected billions of people in the digital world and realized trillions of transactions from the digital to the physical world and vice versa. Technological innovations under FIRe continue to make our life easier.
Professionals, on the other hand, exist to specialize in a field only a few chose to tread. They have spent sleepless nights studying the fabrics of their profession to serve the public better. One could argue that, similar to technology, professionals exist to make life easier as well. But is that true?
Will professionals be fired under FIRe?
At a job interview, a young accountant was asked by the interviewer whether accounting is an art or science. Unsure of how to please this potential employer, the accountant chose to be diplomatic and answered that it is both a science and an art. Accounting is a science, as it is a systematic study with practical activities; accounting is also an art, as it requires intellect in analysis and decision making.
In every profession, a system has been laid out to make life easier. More than the system, however, it is the specialist’s free will, sound judgment, and discretion that go beyond programming calculations making professions an art. It is up to the professional to weave their destiny and, to some extent, the destiny of their client, in their career based on will and sound judgment. This aspect can never be replaced, unless we start cloning ourselves or start to act like programmed robots. Although humanoid robots exist, they can only mimic the human body and its functions. Robots do not have the will, or as religion calls it, the conscience, to decide between good and evil and the dexterity to face the consequences of its actions as humans do.
FIRe and society
Going back to Kat’s dilemma, is there a possibility that professionals will be fired under FIRe or be replaced by technology or robots like Sophia?
The world is not made exclusively for humans or robots. Professionals can harness technology to improve their public service. For Kat, her challenge is finding and pursuing the right profession that lives up to the challenges of FIRe and an institution that recognizes this new era. The challenge today is for all sectors—private, academe, government, etc.—to adapt and address the possible issues on regulating new technologies, new security threats, and inequalities brought about by FIRe. Schwab particularly calls for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.” Instead of treating FIRe as a threat, we are now living under FIRe and we have to make the most out of it.
FIRe opens up unlimited opportunities for professionals. We cannot shun its impact, as we cannot prevent it. Instead, professionals have to adapt and stay updated on technological breakthroughs and innovations and use these as tools for their development. As we continue to make sound, out-of-the-box, and uncalculated decisions, professionals will be irreplaceable.
Remember the young accountant at the job interview? He got the position that he applied for. To date, he has not been fired, despite FIRe, as he writes this article based on his will and judgment.
Atty. Kim Aranas is a Manager of the Tax Advisory and Compliance Division of P&A Grant Thornton's Cebu office.
As publsihed in Mindanao Time, dated 15 April 2019