In the 18th century, an organization known as the Luddites gathered to destroy textile machinery as a form of protest against the automation of their jobs - their livelihoods were at stake. The term “luddite” is still thrown around to refer to labourers, even today, who fear technological development may take away their careers.
First industrial machines, then software, and now Artificial Intelligence. We have been fine so far, but some experts fear this time it may be different.
What impact has automation made so far?
Throughout the centuries, many industries have dramatically changed in their landscape in terms of employment. For instance, although manufacturing has doubled in productivity between 1995 and 2015, manufacturing jobs have been on a steady decline since 1995.
Clerical jobs, such as receptionists and data entry clerks have been replaced by automated phone systems and complex integrations of softwares and database innovations to be able to handle thousands of records within seconds, as opposed to requiring hundreds of thousands of hours to handle paper-work.
Essentially, procedural tasks, things that don’t require human intuition, and are generally variants of “if this then that” tasks, have been the ones most automated. “Creative”, so called right-brained problems, have been relatively untouched (emphasis on relatively).
Ok, so where does Artificial Intelligence come in?
Artificial Intelligence is a complex topic with various applications. When you hear about it in movies, it's about robots mimicking human behavior - also known as artificial general intelligence. We won’t get into the philosophy of whether “androids dream of electric sheep”, but for now it seems we are at least a few decades away from any major breakthrough.
So we spoke about how creative and intuition-intensive problems have been unscathed by machines so far - artificial intelligence turns that on its head.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows machines to use large sets of data and training to have complex algorithms understand and extrapolate information. Where before a lawyer may have felt a huge sense of job security trying to understand the nuances of the law, some companies like Alexsie use AI to parse legal terms to boil it down to “memo format” bits.
I get it, the sky is falling. I’m a real estate agent, am I safe?
Economic trends are notoriously hard to predict, especially with the scale and speed of technological advancements that are unprecedented (see Moore’s law). So the answer is yes, but also no.
We have not seen a complete elimination in jobs in almost any industry - but like every industry so far, the jobs have changed dramatically. The most important part of it, perhaps, is using education to make sure you’re always ahead of the robots.
As a real estate agent, you’re a salesperson of homes - you may think the social aspect of sales keeps you safe from the tech revolution. The Nasdaq floor of stock-brokers doesn’t have the same bustle of the 80’s as most sales of commodities and shares became automated. But real estate has something that makes it quite different.
Real Estate is a very touch-and-feel product. You can’t replace the feeling of walking in a room you may spend years in, even with something like virtual reality. Until we somehow upload our minds to networked-alternate-universe (hey, we’re looking at the worse case scenarios too), we still have to give our bag-of-meat bodies a home. And buyers will always need someone to assist in getting a tour.
No two homes are quite the same, unlike shares in a company. The architectural integrity, the neighbourhood, the layout to accommodate your lifestyle - all these things have a huge impact on your purchasing decision. A skilled realtor can help traverse these complexities - and provide advice tailored to you.
Lastly, the home is a big commitment for almost everyone. Due to the size of the investment, emotions play a huge role - a skilled third party can always assist a buyer in thinking rationally.
There are a few things that are, however, changing - and an agent who doesn’t keep up with the times is most certainly going to fall behind. Things such as digitizing contracts, updating listing websites to give appropriate recommendations to viewers (AI has made strides in this), and cutting clerical costs by automation, as these factors drive down commission over the years - can make or break your career.
It doesn’t help to be alarmed and hyper-alert listening to AI dooms-dayers; however, every industry is changing, and changing faster than one might expect. It’s important to keep tabs on the latest start-ups and various tools that you can leverage to boost your real estate career - and even more importantly, to gain education and experience a machine can hardly mimic at least not yet.