This morning I stumbled on this posting which was sent to me via Quartz Daily Brief, a subscription I have that drops a collection of links to topics on politics, technology, global affairs, science and economics just to name a few. One of the articles that caught my eye was the link to an article posted on the Xerox website (hyperlink posted above), under the subsection ‘Xerox Innovation at Work > Jobs for Robots”.
Just take a look at No. 1 in this list of 19 jobs that will be done by robots by the year 2025. Drum roll please…..The Pharmacist! This article is based on the McKinsey Global Institute’s Report that the current pace of machine learning and natural-user interfaces (such as speech recognition) will be responsible for transforming knowledge work which years ago were certainly thought to be aided by this technology but the last to be replaced, ahead of say the technical tasks of pharmacy technician (for example). Not so according to this article. I’ll add that I have run across several papers, books and talks on this topic. In fact, this replacement of knowledge workers will see the real engine for this change to be Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is even predicted to have physicians replaced by robots infused with AI that will replicate the reasoning, the logic and even some of the ‘fuzzy’ logic related to intuition, previously a purely human activity. Until recently, we all expected technical, blue collar job descriptions to be replaced at some point by robotics/robots. Knowledge work was considered to be the refuge for human workers and that’s why your parents passionately encouraged their children to ‘go to College, University’, to get a good education, because they will always need doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, etc. More and more studies, all on the heels of current research and technological innovation, are warning that within 10 to 15 years, knowledge workers will be replaced by robots running AI.
I’m posting this not because I subscribe to all the apocalyptic groups that are feeding off people’s fears of ‘end of the world’, which includes some of what Mr. Trump is promoting as part of his campaign to become U.S. President! I am still the optimist! Proof of that is that I am a small business owner – you have to be optimistic or just not that bright, and maybe I’m a bit of both, but I digress. The point is that we need to become engaged in this discussion. We can’t ignore the fact that this is going to happen and will happen in your lifetime. How we respond will determine whether the pharmacy profession survives, or at least in what form it might continue to exist. No different than all the previous ‘game changers’ from the the discovery of fire; electricity, the electric light bulb; the industrial revolution, mass production of goods, splitting of the atom; discovery of penicillin, sulfonamides; the transistor, printed circuits, the personal computer, mapping of the gene, and all the subsequent developments that are happening so rapidly that articles like this are historical notes by the time they go from original thoughts to finished post! That’s the world we live in, like or not.
With these rapid changes who is looking at those professions that are the high touch, even if they also include high tech? If the loss of jobs for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is a mere 10 to 15 years away or even a very conservative 20 years away, those in the profession need to be having that discussion that focuses on the changing nature of the profession that still includes the control and distribution of drugs, which must include some discussion of the move to ‘personalized drug therapies’ using new diagnostics that will allow drug therapy to be targeted based on patient phenotype and/or targeting specific genes as more diseases are found to be a result of specific genetic defects. The introduction of robotics has already happened with the introduction of dispensing robots such as ScriptPro, PacMed, Parata and others like them. This is not to mention that pharmacy was the first to adopt computerization for all the data gathering, reference and reporting involved in the community pharmacy’s daily workflow.
There is another camp however that says, just wait a minute! There are plenty of examples of man and machine working together that produce even better results than an all knowing, all seeing machine hopped up with AI! They argue that there will be activities, functions – mental processes that can out ‘think’, ‘out maneuver’ and ‘out perform’ a purely machine based system whether it be embedded within a robot or a stand alone expert system. These are very knowledgable people making comments based on real life experience where people use computers as we thought it was meant to be. Computers are there to serve human users. Despite all the doomsday rhetoric and apocalyptic ideas that machine learning is this nefarious disorder that will see machine learning take over the partnership of man aided by the power of these electronic and quantum brains. That’s where our future lies.