By Denis Jjuuko
Back in the day, photographers were some of the most well dressed professionals you could come across. You hardly saw one with any hair out of place. They loved their gadgets, which gave them a celebrity status of sorts. They loved their job too. It seemed they were in it to create art not just to make money. Then technology happened. All of sudden, everybody had access to a digital camera. And this old guard cursed themselves out of the trade. Many years later, they are still cursing.
Today, at most events I attend, the worst dressed and unkempt people are photographers. Digital cameras made a lot of people assume they can take photos. I am sure you have seen the guys who come selling out-of-focus photos at weddings and conferences. They wont be in the trade for too long. They are about to be shunned by the same people that buy from them today. I no longer pay for such photos. I have nowhere to keep bad photos.
Yet I sometimes wonder. Which job won’t be affected by technology? The simple answer is none. Look at a bank loan officer. Their job is to study your bank account statement and assess whether you qualify for a loan. The next thing is to visit your property and pose for photos as evidence that a property exists and indeed they have done their due diligence. Of course they make their work seem difficult by delaying to give you information regarding your application mainly because they will most likely solicit a bribe for ‘helping’ you get money or to make their employer believe that they do such a hard job.
Truth is the only reason such people still have a job today is because either the chairman of the bank is in a technology shadow as he is still struggling to use Whatsapp or because it is empathy. Getting people out of work may be considered inhuman.
And at the same time, technologies are being developed that will get people out of jobs. And at one stage the technologies will become so available that they won’t be any choice but to replace you. Ask the guys who were employed in the banks to count money or the secretary who never learnt how to use a computer. So if you made any resolutions for 2018, what was it? In my view it should be learning new skills, unlearning some things, and relearning others. A photographer that will remain in business is one who will know what lens to use with his digital camera, how to control lighting when taking photos, and have skills in editing. Not just airbrushing people to look like mannequins on William Street.
The loan officer may have to transition into an account executive to manage the relationship between the borrower and the bank. They may also learn how to use the software that is going to replace them in assessing the credit worthiness of customers.
Ugandan journalists whose only question at press events is to ask for a Luganda version of what somebody has said won’t be in the trade for too long either. Breaking news stories are now written down faster and more accurately by narrative science algorithms than humans. Drivers are going to be replaced by driverless cars. Just look at how Uber is taking taxi drivers out of business. A taxi driver who doesn’t learn the skill of using an app will strike, make noise to politicians and eventually at the end of it all, will have no job. A smart taxi driver in Kampala has to learn to use the Uber or Taxify app today. Amazon is going to replace courier jobs with drones delivering goods at people’s doorsteps in a timeframe we cannot begin to imagine. It already uses robots instead of humans in its warehouses to pack goods. Siri and Alexa may replace personal assistants in a very near future. Cognition and advancements in language technologies may ensure professional interpreters are not necessary at conferences anymore.
If you consult a mechanic in Uganda today about certain cars, they will say don’t buy that one — “it is too electric.” Electric is euphemism for lack of skills to repair and service that particular car. Can’t they learn to repair and service newer model cars? If Kiira Motors produces cars and Uganda bans older car imports, mechanics who will complain about electric cars will have no jobs. Mechanics that will remain in the job are those who will learn new skills, unlearn some and relearn others. That has always been the case by the way. When automatic gearbox cars had just started hitting the market, mechanics sounded alarms. Those who failed to adjust, left the trade, like the old photographers I mentioned earlier, cursing.
The internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, mixed reality and many other technologies will ensure that a cashier in a supermarket is excess to requirements as automation takes place. We can fill a book 100 times the size of a good news bible with such examples.
And the problem with technology for those who don’t adjust is the fact that it gives business owners and managers unbelievable profitability. If you remove people and deploy technologies, you save a lot of money in salaries, pilferage is eliminated, and insurance money for workers is saved among other costs.
With CEOs under immense pressure to turn in huge profits every quarter of the year, only those people who constantly learn something, unlearn certain things and relearn new skills will survive. Whether they kneel for others or not while greeting won’t matter. And I hope it is not too late to wish you a happy new year.
The author is a media consultant and businessman. email@example.com
*Internet photo of an Amazon drone delivering goods. It is going to replace human couriers.