MYOB's chief technology officer Simon Raik-Allen has been looking at the ways that developments in artificial intelligence (AI) may impact business, and the company has published his findings in 'Surviving the Singularity: An MYOB future of business report.'
The good news is that he does see a future for people.
For example, the trend to online shopping may be reversed by making stores a "cherished experience" where "highly-trained service people will be tour guide, advisor, curator and subject matter expert, helping you make choices that suit your tastes and experience the latest novelties in a constantly changing world," to the extent that we may pay an admission fee to stores when we go shopping.
But the items you sell may need to change if you want to trade profitably: "In a world where mass automated production is ubiquitous, items that are handcrafted, locally sourced, and individually made will become rare, fashionable and sought-after."
The question, though, is whether there will be enough people in sufficiently well-paid jobs to buy those individually made (and presumably expensive) items in quantities that will keep their makers and retailers in business.
The report tips several occupations that will be dramatically scaled back over the next 20 years, including telemarketers, auditors, bank tellers, travel agents, retail salespersons, technical writers, real estate agents, and word processors (do they still exist?). And even some relatively new jobs could vanish by 2034, including social media experts and data analysts.
On the other hand, new work opportunities may open up, such as productivity counsellors (using information about employees' health, habits and attention to get the most out of them) and crowdfunding specialists (helping fundraisers obtain the cash they seek).
Raik-Allen's top tips for small businesses that want to prepare for the future are:
1. Automate as many of your manual processes as possible. "Anything you commit to paper now, or a system you have that can't handle automation, will not benefit your business in the future."
2. Focus on service and the customer experience. As automation and robotics spread, customers are likely to seek out human experiences.
3. Broaden your network. "To make your business stand out in an automated world, you will need to focus and leverage your interactions with other companies."
Raik-Allen said "With more time on our hands, other business opportunities are likely to flourish, in the arts, culture, sports and caring professions. Whatever the future brings (and I'm hoping for a technological utopia) it really is just around the corner, so businesspeople, entrepreneurs and students should start preparing for it now."