I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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How to cannibalize your job and make friends with a machine

How to cannibalize your job and make friends with a machine

Instead of waiting for a machine to come after you, it’s better that you steadily kill your job yourself. And invite the machine to takeover.

It doesn’t matter what your industry is. Accounting. Healthcare. Retail. Airlines. Insurance. There are plenty of routine, repeated transactions floating around everyday. With a degree of discerning capability, machines will soon polish them clean. Just for you.

Whether you realize it or not, humanity has largely lost its ability to drive around without map-apps. Even if you remember how to drive to a certain restaurant, it’s pointless. 

You can’t predict traffic or the weather. 

Isn’t the trajectory apparent? 

In the beginning, the machine comes at you in spurts. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s broken. Everyone complains. After what seems like a long time, things stabilize and begin to work. More people adapt. Then very quickly it becomes the norm. Everyone forgets about the time when there was no machine.

Let’s talk about any job - your job. 

I’m sure underneath the sheets, there are tasks that you repeat over and over again. 

In my industry (healthcare), repetition rules. Hundreds of millions of transactions keep the industry's engines chugging everyday. Doctors see similar types of patients. They electronically document similar cases. Billing teams code and bill similar types of charges. The same insurances process the same claims. Then they repeat everything the next day.

Steps to cannibalize your job

If you are so inclined, here are the steps to cannibalize your job before someone else does it for you. 

Step 1: Break the process up into bite-size tasks

Look at your job end-to-end. Break it down into distinct, bite-size chunks. Say you are a clinical coder who reads a doctor’s medical notes and comes up with codes used for billing. Can you break that function down? Identify patterns that you use. What keywords do you look for when you read the medical note?  

May be, your job constitutes 25 distinct steps on a given day. Can you break that down further? Can it be 40 steps?

You get the idea. Break it down. Then break it down again.

Step 2: Divide functions into standard and non-standard

Now, go over these bite-size tasks and tag them as standard and non-standard. What does this mean? Standard tasks are those that are straightforward. Non-standard tasks are far more complex. For example, in the example of a clinical coder - routine procedures (like colonoscopies) are straightforward and standard - there are fewer codes to choose from. But office consultations require more judgment (you have to understand how clinically complex was the consultation). 

Let’s look at it another way. Standard tasks are easy to teach a 10 year old with some effort. Non-standard tasks take experience and require greater comprehension.  

In this step, you are simply dividing your repertoire of tasks into those that are straightforward and those that are not.

Step 3: Convert your standard tasks into simple rules

Isolate your standard functions and write rules around them. Rules (or algorithms) at rudimentary level are logical action statements.

If you consider invoices you send clients every month. You might be doing something like this:

  1. Receive billing information from X.
  2. Match pricing information from Y.
  3. Compute and create invoice for A, B, C.
  4. Email invoice to A, B, C.

See, we are beginning to write simple algorithms that a mindless machine can potentially understand.

Step 4: Break non-standard functions into step-by-step instructions

The reason that something is complex is because it’s not broken down enough. 

Or the task depends on intuitive and experiential knowledge (say a doctor suspects there's something stuck in your gut). Or it depends on other people.

For example, consider marketing as a function. It’s more nuanced than a transaction-ridden job. You write copy, create ads, decide where to place them, email a bunch of people, create proposals, create newsletters and so on.

What if you could break some of these functions down further and further. What if you break-down proposal-making into distinct pieces that a 10-year old could potentially put together using step-by-step instructions. Do you think it’s possible? Most people I ask say yes.

This step is tedious because it seems like too much upfront work. It'll always seem easier to simply do it yourself rather than train a 10 year old to do it - leave alone, a machine.

That’s exactly why this step and the next one is important. (Especially, if you don’t wish to compete with a machine in the future).

Step 5: Repeat Step 1 to 4

You can’t effectively cannibalize your repeating job without repeating these steps. Repeat them until you find it impossible to do so. Revisit these steps every few months.

Step 6: Welcome to the machine

Now, you are ready to cannibalize your job. Seek out a machine to tinker with (hint: Google AIMicrosoft Cognitive ServicesAWS Machine Learning). 

Ask yourself this question, if you can possibly teach a 10-year old portions of your repetitive job, why wouldn't you be able to teach a machine? 

Start somewhere. You’ll surely leave a few repetitive tasks to be eaten by the machine.

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Did you know that some female spiders eat the male spiders during or after mating? (One particular species Latrodectus is fondly called Black Widow). It’s said that they do so to produce stronger offspring

If the spiders don’t cannibalize they won’t survive in the future. If they do cannibalize they won’t survive now. Ouch. It sounds like the story of the job and the machine.

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