No trip is ever totally smooth. To prove the point, a couple hundred of humanity’s weary children and I now sit at O’Hare’s Gate B9 waiting for a pilot to fly us home to Boston. Seems that the pilot originally scheduled has gone AWOL. Whatever the reason, he’s not here, so United Airlines is scrounging around for a replacement. None of the passengers has volunteered.
The rest of the trip has been excellent. I’m returning from Boise, Idaho, where I was honored to deliver the keynote address at the Idaho Industrial Commission’s Annual Workers’ Compensation Conference.
Commission Executive Director Mindy Montgomery, conference organizer Dara Barney and the rest of the outstanding Commission staff did a wonderful job pulling together a highly informative and stimulating day for more than 300 of Idaho’s workers’ comp professionals, including attorneys, claims adjusters, medical providers, agents and brokers.
And before we go any further, I want to publicly acknowledge a debt I owe to the Commission’s Chair, R. D. Maynard, who is also the current President of the IAIABC. In his opening remarks he used a phrase I’ve never heard, but which I intend to steal for the rest of my life. The phrase? In describing a smart person, R. D. suggested she was “smarter than a treeful of owls.”
In my hour and a half presentation (yes, that’s a long one) I didn’t come close to R. D.’s bon mot, but I did discuss three big picture issues and their relationship to workers’ comp:
- Rapidly accelerating artificial intelligence
- The generational changing of the guard as Baby Boomers pass the torch to Millennials
- The New Normal Economy.
I asked the attendees to what degree they thought our industry has or has not kept pace with these transformational issues. I suggested strongly that it has not. By the end of the presentation, most seemed to agree. It’s almost as if for the industry it’s business as usual, but for the industry’s customers, the employers who pay the bills, it’s full speed ahead toward tomorrow.
In the possibly absurd leap of faith that our Jetway’s umbilical cord to O’Hare will be brief, in this post I’m only going to address Item #1, above, the rapidly accelerating development of artificial intelligence.
During the Great Recession that began in 2008, American business lost 16% of its workforce, which forced a major re-evaluation of how business is done. Sixty percent of the jobs that were lost were lost by the middle class, but, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, only 22% of those jobs came back, the other nearly 40% dropping into significantly lower paying jobs. Why? Well, one reason is that beginning in 2010, we saw The Rise of the Robots. Since then, there has been a nearly exponential growth in the deployment of industrial robots and the artificial intelligence that is more and more governing them. Employers are realizing that fewer and fewer humans are needed to make high-quality, reliable products. And robots don’t get hurt and enter the workers’ comp system. You certainly insure them, but not with workers’ comp.
- At an Ikea factory in Sweden, book case components are assembled, packaged, shrink-wrapped, palletized and made ready for distribution 24 hours a day without the touch of a human hand.
- Since defeating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson has continued to learn at a faster and faster pace. Today, Watson seems more like a thinking person, whoops, excuse me, make that thinking machine, than most humans.
In Idaho, I challenged the attendees to ponder how long it would be before some forward thinking insurance hotshot cottons on to the idea that Watson might make a great claims adjuster. Think about it. Handling no more than 125 open claims today is pretty much considered ideal. Watson could handle thousands – 24 hours a day.
I’m not suggesting that we are on the cusp of watching claims adjusters suddenly go the way of the Wooly Mammoth. No, there is a nuance to the claims process that human beings possess and robots, such as Watson, don’t — yet. But it seems inevitable to me that Watson and his brothers and sisters will continue to learn at an ever faster rate, to the point that they will, at some point in the not too distant future, acquire the nuance displayed by today’s best adjusters.
And what about the armies of highly-trained and, in some cases, highly-paid people populating the many pockets on the workers’ comp health care pool table?
The point is that big change is not coming; it’s here. So, the question becomes – What is the more than 100-year-old workers’ compensation industry doing about it? What is the plan?
Before wheels up (yup, we’re finally getting off the runway), I’d like to congratulate both Bob Wilson, of workerscompensation.com, and Mark Pew, of Prium, for their spellbinding (I’m not exaggerating) presentations at yesterday’s Idaho conference. It was a privilege to be on the same program with these workers’ compensation thought leaders.
I’ll post this sometime after getting safe and sound to Boston, “the home of the bean and the cod, where the Lodges talk only to Cabots, and the Cabots talk only to God.”