Will new technology eradicate the need for assistants?

Will new technology eradicate the need for assistants?

I’ve just been reading this fantastic article by Richard Branson on LinkedIn where he discusses how much he values his assistant. I’ve always admired him but to see him praise the assistants he has employed over his career has really raised my estimations! If only all our managers could be so complimentary and aware of how useful we can be.

There has been so much talk over the last few months about technology replacing the need for assistants. In fact, I know of one senior director that has decided to go it alone and is at this very moment using his smart phone and tablet as his very own Miss Moneypenny. I’m looking forward to hearing how he gets on…

Yes that last remark was meant to be sarcastic but honestly I just don’t think that new technology will eradicate our profession and if I’m more honest I find the thought a little insulting! You can do maths using a calculator but we still employ accountants so really what is the difference? Technology has certainly move on however here are just a few reasons why the technology we have at the moment is not going to be able to do our job…

  • Apple’s Siri and similar pieces of technology use voice recognition software which is converted into text and uploaded to the internet as you would with a normal search request. People are able to speak into the kit but what happens with the results that come back? Are our senior director’s really going to take that search result and book the restaurant themselves as an example and how do they know this restaurant is even any good? 
  • Using voice recognition software can be temperamental. Unless you have 30 odd microphones attached to the equipment it can pick up background noise which will ultimately confuse the machine so you really do need to be in a quiet environment. Good luck with that folks… Assistants can work in the most hectic, nosiest of places and still manage to note down what you have said… Ears are our proven and tested voice recognition software!
  • If you do manage to get your tech to capture what you have said does the software understand what you mean? Context is vital to understand what our director’s are saying they want and quite often they are not 100% sure of what they want themselves… Knowing their personality and anticipating their needs are essential.
  • We live in a wonderful world where the internet knows us intimately. It knows our location, our shopping preferences and our music tastes. Our social profile is logged along with our emails, photographs and pretty much anything else we do on the internet. For most of this this isn’t a problem and we except that these huge companies hold fast amounts of data on us. But what happens when you are the very high profile CEO of a large conglomerate, would you really want to be putting the confidential information your EA knows out there on the internet? I’m guessing not. Assistants remain confidential at all times, it is just a given.   
  • I hate to admit it but for a lot of directors having an assistant is a bit of a status symbol. It makes them feel like they’ve made it, and good for them – most of the time they have! So I wonder how they would feel if they were asked to swap their highly skilled assistants for an iPad and a Blackberry. Yes it would save the company paying an additional salary but how much time would these guys spend trying to understand how the machine works… and they wouldn’t have anyone to ask!

I’m not saying that our director’s shouldn’t use this technology, most do and have for a while now. there are some brilliant apps out there which really are helpful and do compliment the work we do rather well. But eradicate the need for assistants – I don’t think so!          

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