The Robots are Coming (A Human’s Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation) was written by John Pugliano, a financial adviser who tends to look at things a little differently. His investing podcast, the Wealthsteading Podcast, is updated occasionally and worth listening to (start at the beginning episodes, which discuss his investing philosophy).
The premise of the book is that automation – both physical and software-based – will continue to take over and consolidate existing jobs. However, the line between what machines can and cannot accomplish will become more obvious. We humans will make our living on the other side of that line.
Those who set themselves up for success now will profit later.
The Coming Challenge
Here’s a quote from the beginning that sums up the problems Mr. Pugliano sees coming around the corner:
Some inaccurately believe that automation will disproportionately have a negative impact [on] the working class blue collar employee. The premise of this book that that over the past generation, those labor-intensive blue collar jobs have already been discounted by automation. The real bite of the next round of automation will be felt by the previously insulated white collar workers, like middle management, legal, and medical professionals.
Automation will aggressively supersede the work of highly compensated professionals because replacing human labor in those jobs will provide the highest return on investment.
To develop the proper mindset, Pugliano directs readers through four overarching perspectives:
Think like a human, not a machine.
Think like an entrepreneur, not an employee.
Think like a saver, not a consumer.
Think like an investor, not a speculator.
Think Like a Human, Not a Machine
Robots, whether physical or software-based, far surpass humans at repetition. Many tasks not yet automated will be lost to humans as machine sophistication, legality, and acceptance continue to expand.
What will not be automated? That which is uniquely human – that which requires insight, creativity, and the human touch. Pugliano advises readers to prepare for the Age of Automation by developing those traits and skills that are uniquely human and cannot be automated.
Pugliano provides two short lists; one of leading traits, and one of supporting traits. The leading traits are areas of knowledge and skill that will be of value in the mechanized future. The supporting traits are softer, “touchy-feely” traits that do not provide a solid career foundation on their own but provide multiplier effects to the leading traits.
The leading traits provided are: Digital, Mechanical, Electrical, and Biological. These are four of the big frontiers being pushed forward today and into the future. Discovery and implementation must take place in advance of automation, and that is the window of human opportunity.
The supporting traits are: Kindness, Competence, Communication, Art, Organization, Vision, and Courage. The supporting traits ground the leading traits in human terms that promote the networking and connection necessary to avoid being left behind.
You have your own aptitudes and inclinations towards these and other skills. Intentionally develop and harmonize them for your long-term benefit.
The high-touch employee with specialized skills will outlast the generic, replaceable grunt. The high-touch artisan will succeed where the grunting contractor fails.
This is just a summary – the book goes into detail. Other topics discussed include the ongoing tendency of technology to overcome disabilities and physical limitations, and the types of education that do and do not provide value (e.g. regimentation stifles the creativity needed to thrive in the automated future).
Think Like an Entrepreneur
An entrepreneur is someone that organizes a business and takes on greater than normal risk. Even if you never plant to become self-employed, you should start thinking like an owner, because ultimately, you are the owner of your own career.
Technological changes bring workplace changes. Complacency works until it doesn’t. Those who direct their activities with intention will be exposed to fewer surprises (because they direct their lives), more easily compensate for those surprises (because they are used to taking charge and making plans), and are mentally more adept at seeing & pivoting to opportunities (because they view themselves as responsible for the future).
Whether working for yourself or someone else, entrepreneurial thinking is an asset.
Production has four requirements: Capital (tools used to transform materials from one thing to another), Land / Natural Resources (feedstock for capital), Labor (the work of using capital to transform those resources), and Entrepreneurship (insight, courage, and dedication necessary to create the system in which these things happen).
As automation increases, the “labor” part of production will require fewer and fewer humans. The entrepreneurship side of the equation is the part to focus on.
Think Like a Saver, Not a Consumer
This section and the next focus on Pugliano’s core interests – he is a financial manager – by looking at the market & investing consequences of automation and other trends. This section, “Think Like a Saver,” overlaps heavily with the next “Investor” section.
In contrast to the consumer, the saver uses money to meet future needs. One of the best ways to save is to avoid industries and geographical locations that cost too much now or in the future.
Automation will result in the birth of new industries and the death of old ones. One example given is the collection of businesses and industries surrounding telephone directories. Printers, paper-makers, tree farms, lumberjacks all were heavily impacted. Many companies merged or folded entirely.
Until the internet replaced the telephone directory, the industry seemed like a stable one for both investment and employment.
Real estate will be impacted by coming trends. One trend is increasing interest rates depressing home prices. Another is automation & remote working reducing demand in currently high-priced locations. A third is the increase of property taxes to cover shortfalls by cities struggling to meet pension and similar obligations.
Takeaway: look at existing trends to see how they will affect the cost of your lifestyle down the road. Do not choose to be tied down to situations that will impose unnecessary costs.
Think Like an Investor, Not a Speculator
This section focuses on avoiding get-rich-quick schemes, bubbles, hype, and one-in-a-million startups. As reflected in Pugliano’s podcast, he spends a lot of time looking at future trends but also avoids the untested bleeding edge. One of the most important parts of making money is not loosing it.
Many topics and sectors of the economy are discussed here. If you’re interested (and it is an interesting book), pick up the book at Amazon (using AKC’s affiliate link) or borrow it from the library.
Automation will affect nearly everything everywhere, creating both benefits and drawbacks. Those who design their careers to take advantage of existing trends with the option to pivot to new ones will do very well.
The robots are coming for your job, but they cannot replace you if you are loved. People that learn to use their human touch to create will prosper; those that create emotional bonds and feelings with others will thrive.
Connect with others in ways that cannot be replaced. This is good advice for all parts of life.