It’s no secret that many technology companies and entrepreneurs are out to create both software and hardware that automates everything and anything it possibly can. From rudimentary assistance like the iPhone’s Siri, to email and background checking like Charlie, to in-home apparatus like Jibo, it seems like assistants can be easily replaced with the swipe of a credit card and the purchase of a few gizmos and gadgets.
But is administration really at risk? We think not. Software and hardware is great if it’s used to its maximum capacity, but even software that’s been around for decades is rarely used to its full extent. Take the Microsoft Office Suite, for example. Eighty percent of Microsoft Office users only use 20% of its functionality. Some of the most useful tools in Office are underused everyday by your coworkers, your boss, and even your friends. But you are a different animal; the best administrative assistants have mastered the Office Suite among other programs.
It’s crucial to remember that these “virtual assistant” replacements are merely tools. Emailing tools like Charlie and Rapportive are great for doing preliminary legwork on people’s backgrounds, but chances are, the personal bits of information—that someone is a vegetarian, that they are a huge Yankees fan, or that they severely dislike tardiness—probably won’t be on their LinkedIn profile. The real work involves a human aspect that only an assistant can provide. Assistants can’t be hacked into like software. Assistants understand the nuances of the executives they support; they do not run on algorithms or voice recognition. They work based on intuition, instinct, and experience, something that can’t be taught to a computer program.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that people prefer to work with other people as opposed to technology, and why wouldn’t they? Human assistants are intuitive, kind, empathetic, funny, loyal, considerate, and a host of other adjectives that a smartphone could never be. Technology is preprogrammed and cold, and won’t make sure it’s a “good time” before it interrupts you with a text or a phone call.
So, are assistants at risk for losing their jobs? For now, probably not. For Rodney Brooks, a former MIT robotics professor, “these machines are going to help workers, not compete with them. He points out that personal computers didn’t get rid of office workers, they changed the jobs people did. When it comes to robots, ‘it’s not a one-for-one replacement,’ he says. ‘People are so much better at certain things.’”