The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

July 10, 2016

Robots Will Take Your Job

We’ve heard it since the Industrial Revolution: machines are replacing human jobs. So far, we’ve created new jobs for most of those replaced humans; but this time, it’s different.  Within 20 years, half of all jobs could be automated — from customer service reps to lawyers. Writer Scott Santens explores the impacts with Jim and Steve.

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Hi, I’m Steve Motenko. Welcome to The Boss Show. I’m the psychology guy. I’m an executive coach and a personal development coach here in the Puget Sound region.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. I’m the boot strap business guy that came from without a college degree all the way to becoming a vice-president in a Fortune 150 company.


Steve Motenko: At age 36.


Jim Hessler: At age 36.


Steve Motenko: Which is really impressive.


Jim Hessler: Yeah. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the author, along with Steve, of the book Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face.


Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show, how likely is it that robots will take your job? Well, you got to listen to this because it’s way more likely than you might expect. It’s not just your job. You might think that the robots are after only your job, but in fact, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100 million jobs that computers and robots can … will … within 20 years be able to do better than humans. Some of which, even basic legal skills and call center jobs are in the process of being taken over by robots. We’ll talk much more about that as we go on.


Jim Hessler: Steve, I think this is one of the most important subjects we’ve ever talked about on The Boss Show, and I hope everybody can listen to the entire episode this week and next on KOMO radio, but if you can’t, go to the podcast and listen to both episodes together. It’s important stuff.


Steve Motenko: That’s at Our podcasts are also available on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. The Boss Show. With our guest today, we’re going to explore … You know, the big question is, if that really happens, and most, I would say, futurists, prognosticators, are agreed that it will … The big question is, how will society cope with it? We’ll talk with our guest today, Scott Santens, a freelance writer who’s dedicated to this subject. We’ll talk about one way of coping with this massive job loss that could shift our culture as profoundly as the invention of the computer or the atom bomb.


Jim Hessler: The industrial revolution.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, just about anything we’ve seen in the last couple hundred years.


Jim Hessler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Steve Motenko: Stay with us. Before we get there, though, listener comment from Amy in Cincinnati. Jim, are you ready?


Jim Hessler: I’m ready.


Steve Motenko: She says, “I love the show.”


Jim Hessler: Nice.


Steve Motenko: Yeah.


Jim Hessler: We like hearing that.


Steve Motenko: Should we just stop there?


Jim Hessler: Yeah. Let’s just stop.


Steve Motenko: Okay. She says, “I listen to all the podcast episodes and find your insights to be extremely helpful as a manager.” I just, you know, had to read that. She says, “The episode about technology … My feathers get wrangled …” She’s talking about … This is a show that you brought … Jim, about …


Jim Hessler: Concerns about what technology was doing to the brains, particularly of young people.


Steve Motenko: Right. Right. Which of course is allied with our topic today. She says, “My feathers get wrangled when I hear older adults lament that young people are glued to their screens and are not getting outside for exercise. I have two daughters,” she says, “ages 12 and 16, who have phones and are very connected to tech, but both of them also have no problem putting their phones away to go out and enjoy the outdoors and friends. They’re better at this than I am.”


Jim Hessler: What’s interesting about baby boomers is, often the parents are actually worse about using technology than their kids are. I’m not surprised to hear her say this. To Amy, good for you. I mean, I think that’s great. I do want to present it as an “and.” We don’t need to throw our cell phones in the trash. We just need to have an appropriate relationship with them. We don’t need to turn off our computers 18 hours a day. We just need to … It’s all about understanding. It’s all about awareness and understanding what your relationship with that machine is and what it might be doing to you. It’s a wonderful tool. I’ve said many times, entrepreneurialism has been helped tremendously by technology. It’d be really hard to run … You and I are self-employed. It’d be really hard to do that without technology. I love technology. I just don’t want it to own me.


Steve Motenko: That’s makes a lot of sense. The other piece to me is that there is a big onus on parents and on educators to provide opportunities for kids so that they become as enamored of doing things like going outdoors and being in nature, tending gardens, or playing sports or whatever.


Jim Hessler: Children learn an unbelievable amount by going out and making a mud pie or building a dam of rocks across a stream. It’s a really important part of learning that we see lost a lot today.


Steve Motenko: Also, parents and educators have to really support kids’ emotional intelligence, so they don’t relegate themselves to …


Jim Hessler: Interact with other human beings.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. When we come back, Scott Santens on the future of the work place. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Steve Motenko: Welcome back to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy, more importantly.


Steve Motenko: More importantly, as he likes to point out to everyone, including my wife. She doesn’t believe it. Even his own wife doesn’t believe it. We digress. Welcome back to The Boss Show. We … The subject of today is, will robots take your job? We have, on the phone with us, Scott Santens, who’s a freelance writer and an advocate for something called universal basic income, which actually is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the idea that everyone ought to be paid a subsistence level income just for existing. A very controversial issue or idea, as you might guess. Scott’s work was featured recently in The Atlantic. He’s a blogger for The Huffington Post. What caught my attention was his recent article, very thought provoking article, with huge implications for the work place that appeared in The Boston Globe, called “Robots Will Take Your Job.” Scott Santens, welcome to The Boss Show.


Scott Santens: Hi. Thanks for having me.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, so there was an article … You mention at the beginning of your article that there was an item in the news a few months ago, in the tech world, which I remember hearing a little bit of a buzz about. Jim, you probably remember, too, about a computer learning to defeat a human at a Japanese kind of moving marble game called Go. You say, in your article, that this is kind of a game changer for our culture. Why is that?


Scott Santens: Yeah, so Go is an incredibly complex game with essentially more moves than the amount of particles in the universe. It’s just a crazy complex game.


Jim Hessler: Wow.


Scott Santens: This was considered to be kind of a holy grail for artificial intelligence, being able to accomplish a system that could outperform the best humans at playing Go. This is … We did chess first and we did Jeopardy with Watson and this was kind of the next big goal. Just even last year, if you had asked those who knew the most about artificial intelligence and Go, and asking them, “When do you think a machine will beat a master Go player at Go?” They would’ve said, “Well, ten years, maybe, or maybe never. We don’t know.” This just happened already. This is now in the past. It’s been accomplished, and we’re going on from there. It really just speaks to this new ability, this kind of a class of algorithm, way of doing things called deep learning, which is a form of machine learning. It’s really when you just kind of train a computer using a whole lot of data to, essentially, teach it and it can learn to do some kind of really incredible things that has mostly been in the realm of just human thinking.


Steve Motenko: In a way … It occurred to me in reading your article and doing other research that computers are actually teaching themselves. That is what has caused the increase in … the exponential increase in the ability of computers to take on artificial intelligence.


Scott Santens: Yeah. I included this example, also, besides AlphaGo in that article, just this great example of teaching … a computer teaching itself how to play Atari 2600 video games. You know, we know this are kind of simpler games and what they did is, they just fed, essentially, the screen, like the pixels, into the computer, and also the score, and basically just said, okay, your goal is to get the highest score you can get. The computer just went about trying to do whatever it could to increase the score, so the neural network that it uses was trained on this data, so it just did it over and over again. It was just playing itself over and over again.


Steve Motenko: That sounds like the way …


Scott Santens: It was able to learn how to out compete people.


Steve Motenko: Sounds like the way biologic life evolved, in a sense.


Scott Santens: Yeah. Yeah.


Steve Motenko: Just a series of, did I survive this game? Did I not survive this game? That’s the way species evolved. Right?


Scott Santens: Right. Right. It’s a form of evolution applied to machine logic. This is also not to confuse it to this deep … what’s called deep or strong AI or this idea of this kind of terminator, self aware system [crosstalk 00:10:07]


Steve Motenko: Let’s talk more about that after the break, Scott. We’re talking about, will robots eventually take your job? You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: Hi. I’m Jim Hessler. This is the show for anyone who is or has a boss, even if your boss is a robot.


Steve Motenko: You’re the business guy and I’m the psychology guy. I’m Steve Motenko, and I am a robot.


Jim Hessler: Who would know?


Steve Motenko: That’s right. That’s how scary the world is today, is that you wouldn’t even know that I’m a robot. Speaking of which, in preparation for this interview, I rewatched, last night, a movie that I just loved, Ex Machina. Have you seen it?


Jim Hessler: Is that the one about the woman who …


Steve Motenko: Yeah.


Jim Hessler: Totally manipulates the guys and ends up –


Steve Motenko: Ah, ah, ah, ah. Don’t tell them what she ends up doing. It’s just a fascinating, both philosophical and, I think, artistic adventure.


Jim Hessler: It is. It’s a good movie.


Steve Motenko: Scott Santens is our guest on The Boss Show today. He wrote an article for The Boston Globe about the possibility of robots taking your job, and that’s what we’re exploring kind of step by step today. Scott, did you see Ex Machina?


Scott Santens: I did see that.


Steve Motenko: What’d you think?


Scott Santens: You know, I like it okay. Well, actually, I have a preference for Her. I thought that was really interesting.


Steve Motenko: Ah. Yeah, that was a good movie. Yeah. Right. Okay. Let’s move from fiction to fact, or likely fact. We were talking, just before the break, about deep learning, and how it has exponentially accelerated the learning curve for computers, eventually, to take over, and already, obviously, taking over what used to be only thought the province of human activity. Say a little bit about deep learning. What is it come from?


Scott Santens: Well, deep learning is kind of a newer way of going about this using what’s called deep neural networks, which is kind of layers upon layers. It’s kind of like a rough approximation of the way the human mind works. How one layer will be focusing on one thing, and then the result of that will go to the next layer and the result of that will go to the next layer. A lot of people have seen this kind of in action with the Google results where you can actually look through their deep learning system and see paintings full of dog heads and cat heads and stuff. It’s kind of a funny way of showing the way that these layers work and how that it can detect these images through other images. It’s really interesting how you’re able to feed so much data into this to get these various kind of incredible results [crosstalk 00:13:09] doctors and lawyers.


Steve Motenko: Can I train my PC to do this? Or is this the purview of really advanced super high powered computers that can do this?


Scott Santens: It’s not quite yet to the point where anybody can use it on their PC, but there is actually forms in the cloud, like open AI and these various systems in place where you can actually kind of use these deep learning tools yourself via the cloud, and [crosstalk 00:13:43].


Steve Motenko: It’s partly, isn’t it, that our understanding of how our … accelerating understanding of how our brains work that has fed our ability to kind of translate that or convey that into software and hardware design? Am I right about that? We have about 20 seconds.


Scott Santens: Yeah. Yeah. I’m really fascinated by this idea of bio-mimicry, and how there’s a lot of stuff out there in nature that we can apply to technology. I think this is one of those really interesting examples of instead of using old computer logic text, they kind of go more of a biological route.


Steve Motenko: When we come back from the break, Scott Santens, freelance writer, is with us. We’ll talk more about the impact of all this machine learning on the work place. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News. The Boss Show is back on a Northwest Lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim Hessler: I am that Jim Hessler, and I am the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. This is the show for anyone who is or has a boss. We encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, on Twitter, on our website,, where you can download all our past episodes. You can also subscribe to the podcast there so you never miss an episode of The Boss Show, which I think is the primary … the number one motivation for all …


Jim Hessler: For living.


Steve Motenko: Yes. For all computers who want to be human. Speaking of which, we’re talking with Scott Santens today. He is a freelance writer, and futurist, in a way. Scott, let’s look at some of the things that computers are learning to do better than humans in …


Jim Hessler: I want to hear this car story.


Steve Motenko: In ways that will take jobs away. Now I read in another article, other than yours, that IBM’s famous Watson computer can give you legal advice with 90% accuracy, compared … Well, at least for some basic legal issues. Compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans, and that’s just an example of so many ways in which computers are doing things that used to, until recently, be thought not possible for anything other than humans. Scott, tell us about Amelia.


Scott Santens: Amelia’s one of my favorite examples because … Okay, so I actually used to work in a call center, myself. It was interesting to me how kind of rote the work is. You know, you’re given a list of things and you get a call and you go through this, and you’re supposed to do this and this and this, and if not, then you do this. It’s very machine like. That’s essentially what makes it very easy for Amelia to handle that. What you do is, you install Amelia and she starts taking calls and she’s able to learn how to improve to do these things to the point where those who are using her at the moment can, essentially, reduce their amount of labor by 60% that they wanted to because she’s able to do 60% of all calls. What she can’t do is hand it off to humans, so [crosstalk 00:16:53].


Steve Motenko: Wait. Can I interject [crosstalk 00:16:55]


Jim Hessler: Then people know they’re talking to a robot?


Scott Santens: I would think so, but she actually is very …


Steve Motenko: Convincing.


Scott Santens: Not your typical kind of robot voice. Also, she’s actually trained to respond differently according to the emotion of what she perceives on the other end. So if you’re angry or happy …


Steve Motenko: She can read emotions through voices?


Scott Santens: Yeah. Yeah. She can read your … Yeah.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. I mean, my pet peeve, and I’m sure most of the population shares this with me, is when you’re talking to a call center person who’s so focused on procedure and the standard routinized, very detailed processes in front of her that she’s not at all human. Is Amelia really … Does she sound human? Does she sound like she’s really responding to you?


Scott Santens: You know, I actually have not hear her with my own ears, but I have heard and read … She has a good approximation, and again, considering that this particular work can be very rote and machine like in itself, like people can actually feel like they’re machines, just like reading these numbers, entries off a list. It was not a whole lot of thinking involved. People are kind of even expecting that, too. [crosstalk 00:18:17]


Jim Hessler: I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve talked to Amelia and I don’t even really know that I’ve talked to Amelia.


Scott Santens: Right. [crosstalk 00:18:24]


Steve Motenko: That’s the touring test. Right?


Jim Hessler: Yeah.


Scott Santens: Like sometimes, you’ll get a call … Even just recently, a lot of us got calls from Presidential candidates and people calling about that, and … My girlfriend got a call recently, and it just … She actually asked them, “Are you a robot?”


Jim Hessler: Oh.


Steve Motenko: Wow.


Scott Santens: They’re like, “No, and this [crosstalk 00:18:44]”


Steve Motenko: Do I sound like one? That’s crazy.


Scott Santens: Yeah. This work is really ripe for this kind of machine usage. Amelia, again, shows this example where, this isn’t necessarily about reducing all jobs. We’re always going to have some jobs. It’s just that machines can handle so much more of that load to the point where we don’t need as many people performing those jobs, so at that point …


Steve Motenko: It looks like, from what you say … Sorry to interrupt you. In your article, that a lot of jobs will go away, maybe more than will be replaced. That’s what we want to talk about when we come back from the break. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Steve Motenko: Welcome back to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, the business guy. We love to hear from you. Please send us emails at That’s email. That’s an old technology, but we still use it. Or you can call us at 206-973-7377. Call us with a question. Call us with a suggestion for a guest or a subject or just tell us we’re full of …


Steve Motenko: Whatever that we can’t say on the radio.


Jim Hessler: Yeah. Yeah.


Steve Motenko: We have on the phone with us, from New Orleans, Scott Santens. Scott, are you in New Orleans today?


Scott Santens: I am.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. Scott is a freelance writer whose article, “Will Robots Take Your Job?” or “Robots Will Take Your Job,” really caught my attention in The Boston Globe recently. We’re talking about the possibility that robots will take your job. We mentioned before the break that computers can give legal advice, in some cases better than humans. We talked before the break about how this thing, this computer …


Jim Hessler: Call centers.


Steve Motenko: … called Amelia can eventually replace … or almost currently replace potentially 250 million call center jobs. What does this mean, Scott, for the future of the work place?


Scott Santens: Well, I think it means that … Of course, we’re creating these more high skill jobs, so on the one, it’s in your most interest to … your best interest to be more creative, to do more high skilled work. Again, with the call center example … This is, I guess, something that I did myself, is that I was promoted to being the … basically the tech support for the tech supports. Whatever calls that weren’t possible for the people to do, they went to me, and then I did those calls. That’s exactly the one that won’t be replaced by Amelia because Amelia can’t do everything. She can just do a lot, and then it goes to somebody else. If you can be that person that can do the work that machines can’t do, then you’re in a great position. You can command a greater wage, and you’re going to be better off. For those who can’t do that, that’s where things get really tricky as to what forms of work will there be because for decades, we’ve been created mostly service vector work, like very low skill work to replace a lot of our manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are very ripe for automation themselves. You’ve already possibly heard in the news about McDonald’s CEO and Wendy’s CEO and whatever CEO talking about, well, they’re looking at automation because of the higher minimum wages. We’re going to be able to …


Steve Motenko: Oh, cool, so we’re going to make the McDonald’s shopping experience even more …


Jim Hessler: Robotic?


Steve Motenko: Even more interesting. Joy.


Scott Santens: Yeah. Although, I actually … I miss … I’m excited about that myself, actually, just from the usage of self ordering tablets and what not. It’s a really different experience to just kind of order at your own leisure and order exactly what you want and take that element out of the equation where it can be miscommunications and dealing with other people in a way that adds cost to the good or service. I think that’s great for the consumer. Again, what happens to all these people and what happens when they lose their source of income through this? Yeah. It’s a very open question, and that’s, again, why –


Steve Motenko: One statistic I’ve read … Of course, it’s all prognostication, but half of all existing jobs will be automated 17 years from now? 83% chance that a worker making less than $20 an hour in 2010 will eventually lose his job? Let’s say a little bit more about that when we come back from the break, and in part 2 of this series, Scott, we want to talk about your pet topic called universal basic income as a way of coping with the coming massive loss of jobs. Stay with us. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We’re talking with freelance writer Scott Santens today about the phenomenal acceleration in computer learning and what that is already meaning for the work place, and what it’s going to mean for the work place in the future. We haven’t kind of finished that conversation yet, so we’re going to do a part 2, where we’re going to bring Scott back to talk about the specific implications for the work place and for our culture at large. Meanwhile, while you’re waiting for part 2 to come out, if you want to know more about Scott’s work, you can check out his website at Last name is S-A-N-T-E-N-S. Scott’s Twitter handle is @2noame. That’s the number 2, N-O-A-M-E. Scott, thanks for being on the show.


Scott Santens: Thanks so much for having me.


Steve Motenko: We’ll talk to you in part 2.


Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions and our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at where you can also go to subscribe to our podcast or to contact us for any reason, like maybe to bring us into your work place.


Jim Hessler: We can deliver pizza.


Steve Motenko: Any reason, I guess. Yeah.


Jim Hessler: Thank you for listening.


Steve Motenko: Don’t forget rule number 6.


Jim Hessler: Rule number 6.



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