December 12, 2018

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert Is Still Talking About Her Teenage Son’s Fear of Robots

Our QOTD comes from Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert, who shared the stage with AT&T Business CEO Thaddeus Arroyo and CNN host Anderson Cooper a couple of weeks ago during the AT&T Business Summit in Dallas to discuss how to be an effective leader in a digital world.

Cooper, who moderated the discussion, mentioned that people do not have linear careers anymore and that he still thinks of his career in a linear way, even though that’s probably an old-fashioned way of thinking about it.

After talking about the courage it takes for people “to raise their hand to do different things” and the “reskilling” that is going to be required, Engelbert said “everybody is worried about the robot apocalypse, and are we not going to be doing what we are doing today in five to 10 years?”

Well, we found out that nobody is more worried about the robot apocalypse than Engelbert’s own son (6:42 mark of video below):

It is an interesting time, and people are worried. I have a teenage son who came to me the other day and said, “You know, mom, I’m afraid a robot is going to take over my job someday.” And I said, “Thank goodness he’s actually thinking about this kind of stuff rather than playing video games and things like that.”

Poor kid. This is actually the second time his mom has told a large audience about his robot fears in the past few weeks. Speaking at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on Sept. 20, when asked about the evolution of artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation in and outside tech companies, Engelbert said:

I’m much more of an optimist on this than anyone because as I look at it, technology, we’ve seen this movie before. I realize now it’s exponential, it’s changing fast, people are worried about the robot apocalypse. Even my own son, when he was 15 years old, two years ago, who was interested in baseball and Xbox and that was about it, came to me and said, “Mom, I’m worried about something,” and I said, “What are you worried about?” He said, “That a robot is going to take over my job someday.” And I was like, “Yes! He’s worried about something real!”

And as it turns out, Engelbert has used her son as an example a couple of other times within the past year or so. In a LinkedIn post on March 21, 2017, she wrote:

Take life sciences. When I began working with the industry, clients didn’t have opportunities to leverage digitized data to quicken the drug discovery process. And it would be years before robots could precisely grip test tubes, vials, and petri dishes to help with sensitive lab tests. That was a human’s job!

Dramatic shifts in the how and the where of the future of work recently prompted my 15-year-old to ask, “Mom, are robots going to take my job someday?”

I told him: “Don’t worryI’ve never met a machine with courage and empathy.”

Her son was also brought up in a May 11, 2017, Quartz article:

The prospects of an automated, robotic future isn’t just the obsession of labor economists and science fiction writers. It’s also unnerving 15-year-old boys.

When Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert’s son told her he worried there wouldn’t be a job for him when he graduated, the head of one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world did what any good parent would do: She sat him down in front of The Jetsons.

The Jetsons, an early 1960s cartoon about a family in the far future, “was way ahead of its time,” Engelbert tells Quartz. The show explored society’s anxieties about automation and the future of work. George Jetson, the father, works two hours a week, and the family’s housework is performed by Rosie, the robot maid. Even the family dog, Astro, is reliant on automation—he is walked on a treadmill.

“I wanted him to see that in the ’60s and ’70s, we worried about it, too,” Engelbert said.

The point Engelbert is trying to make is a good one, as the fears about robots taking jobs away from workers in all industries are valid. She said at the recent Yahoo Finance AMS:

I think there’s actually real opportunity around incorporating AI or bots with human ingenuity in creating opportunity. And we’re seeing it in our business every day. … Our talent is more psyched about what they are doing, especially millennial, digital, Gen Z talent.

I think there’s more of an opportunity to shift and change jobs. I mean, we already have 6.7 million jobs out there that haven’t been filled, so I think the skills gap is something we really need to focus on. What are the skills for those jobs? Are those jobs that people are going to want to have? Are they subject to automation and maybe we can free up other jobs with this HI shift?

It is something I deal with every day because every day we are deploying a new technology. I read the other day, instead of mass unemployment, mass redeployment. It’s going to take money and capital to redeploy and reskill.

But her son’s gotta be like, “Jeez, mom, you know what I told you when I was 15? GIVE IT A REST ALREADY!!!”

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