Robots will take on more of the jobs we now do, says Daniel Petre
Robots will take on more of the jobs we now do, says Daniel Petre

Rise of the Robots: Jobs most likely to go in digital age

IF you think the world has changed dramatically in the past ten years, Daniel Petre has a simple message for you.

You ain't seen nothing yet.

The former vice-president of Microsoft, who worked closely with Bill Gates before bringing eBay and ninemsn to Australia, says Australians have very little idea of what is coming - the rise of the robots, the loss of jobs, and the takeover by global companies of key industries through online and social media platforms.

"We will see four times what is happening now over the next 10 years,'' he tells a room packed with everyone from high school students to business movers and shakers on the Sunshine Coast.

Petre's recent visit was organised by Member for Fisher Mal Brough who admitted he was appalled when only 11 MPs - nine from Queensland - turned up to a similar presentation in Canberra.

Too many MPs were not interested because it was not going to happen in the next three to five years  -and was 'too hard' to tackle.

Petre's predictions are hard - and frightening.

On the jobs front, he says as many as one in two jobs could go over the next 10 years through automation and technology as companies seek to maximise profits.

He predicts robots doing surgery, houses and human organs being made from 3D printers, computer programs which learn how to do things better than humans can.

We will see more and more mining trucks being driven remotely or by machine and the march of recommendation platforms using 'big data' to advise us on everything from which plumber or mechanic to use to what GP we should visit.

Petre, who warned media giants like Fairfax and PBL years ago of the online threat, said many companies did not have a clue about the impact of technology.

"It is changing everything we do in every industry and every marketplace.''

Coping with that change, he says, will require a new level of expertise.

"The time you have to innovate is shrinking - you need people who are a lot smarter.''

"(But) you look at our boards of Australian companies, they are full of old white guys who are not particularly bright and have no understanding of this.''

Australian firms, he says, will have to spend far more on looking 20 years ahead, and investing in research and development.

So what jobs and industries are under threat and where are the advantages?

Petre spells it out pretty clearly.

Internet guru Daniel Petre was a guest of Startup businesses at the Innovation Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Pictured (from left) are Daniel Petre, Danum Harris-Lusk and Wilfrid Watson from Phenomec, and Mal Brough.
Internet guru Daniel Petre was a guest of Startup businesses at the Innovation Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Pictured (from left) are Daniel Petre, Danum Harris-Lusk and Wilfrid Watson from Phenomec, and Mal Brough. Brett Wortman

He says any jobs that can be done just as well by a machine or computer are likely to go while 'creative' or technology based jobs are likely to boom.

He advises young people to ensure they have science, technology, maths and engineering among their skill sets.
Petre says there will be huge opportunities for start-up companies with great ideas - but people need to global leaders in their niche -and research what is available not just at a local level but on the world stage.

The co-author of The Clever Country? Australia's Digital Future says businesses that wanted to succeed need to ensure they were surrounded by people with great technology skills and ideas.

His profile gives the example of Ticketek, Australia's largest ticketing company, which he helped to transform by migrating aggressively to online.

Petre says retailers need to do the same, offering better service at a store level which reaching out for global customers by identifying niches and key points of difference.

But he said even now, many are indifferent to flood of goods coming in from overseas through online services.
Too many, he says, think that what has happened in the US and overseas won't happen here.

Virtual reality, advanced robotics, recommendation engines, aggregate views of friends and big data are some of the things we should be finding out about.

Daniel Petre: we haven't seen anything yet.
Daniel Petre: we haven't seen anything yet. Brett Wortman

Petre gives the example of the evolution of music from vinyl to CD to iTunes and now music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify.

As a self-confessed geek, he marvels at Pandora, telling its creator it is the best thing he has seen in 20 years.
Pandora uses algorithms based on 400 musical attributes covering the qualities of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics.

As you like song after song, it learns to serve up more songs you will love - including those you have never heard before.

Petre says computers and robots will learn to do what humans now do by watching the best, points to IBM's Watson, which learnt how to debate better.

"All (of these technologies) will come to start impact employment,'' he says.

He points to driverless trucks already operating in mining operations in Western Australia.

"Robots will do surgery,'' he says, pointing out much of surgery is routine, except of course, when things go horribly wrong.

"They will watch the best

"Yes you could have robots doing surgery

"But there are no human volunteers yet,'' he jokes.

Petre says consumers will increasingly find the best of services through online platforms and computer-driven recommendation engines.

He says in the next 10 to 15 years there will be few industries spared, including the TV business as more and more shift from watching channels to shows online.

Even online businesses, he says, won't be spared as people find better ways of doing things.

Petre talked about the 'Internet of Things' where everything will have an IP address so home alarms, heating, and even drug dispensers and asthma inhalers will be computerised and monitored.

A smart inhaler, for example, will allow parents to check on when a child inhaled and the dose.

He says new media companies with agility and technology on their side will leave huge multibillion dollar industries behind, citing the growth of companies like Netflix, Seek, Google, Nordstrom, ASOS.

He says for the right players, the opportunities will be enormous.

If they are smart enough.


Explosion of mobile devices

Faster wireless networks

Growth of social networks

Global company expansions

Growth in video streaming

Internet of Things

3D Manufacturing

Machine learning

Advanced Robotics