Are robots a threat to the role of the personal assistant?

  Tay      Feb 25 2019     Career Advice, Expert Articles

AI is advancing, but is it about to advance us all out of a job?

Are robots a threat to the role of the personal assistant?


What a time to be alive. Whether it’s Siri negating the need to do our own research, Alexa ordering everything from our Uber to our a pizza or Cortena managing our diary or tracking a package, we’ve got an array of virtual assistants on call to make our lives easier. And given that it’s less than a year until 2020, which still sounds like the opening credits to a science fiction film, is it time we started seriously asking ourselves whether robots could do our jobs for us?

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are developing rapidly, offering the promise of increased productivity and creating new products and services. A great thing in theory. That should make our jobs easier. But what if makes them too easy?

Machine learning enables computer systems to perform specific tasks intelligently by carrying out complex processes by learning from data, as opposed to simply following pre-programmed rules and we’ve witnessed huge advance in its capabilities over the past few years.

Increased availability of data, more computing power and advanced algorithms mean that we’re regularly interacting with machine learning-driven systems, like image recognition systems prompting us to tag photos on social media, online retailers making recommendations based on our search and purchase history - and of course voice recognition systems used by virtual personal assistants.

But while reports suggest that a huge amount of jobs are at risk as development of AI increases, the good news is that industry experts don’t think personal assistants necessarily need to expect a P45 to land on their desks any time soon.

“Being a good assistant is much more than being efficient,” insists Susanna Tait, CEO of PA recruitment specialists Tay Associates, “which obviously a robot could be better at. But soft skills, like attitude, ambassadorial qualities, intuition, relationship management, knowing when need to be a calming influence or to offer encouragement and enthusiasm, being a sounding board with matters of a sensitive nature regarding people management or delicate subjects such as relationships in a team, helping to select an outfit for an event, knowing what personal items to order ahead to a hotel when a bag goes missing in a foreign country - the list goes on.

“These are the ways an assistant brings real value. And they just won’t be as effective without the warmth and nurturing instinct of a real person.”

And this view is shared but those successfully filling these roles at the moment according to Suzanna Koszegi, Office and Administrative Manager at Sun European Partners LLP.

“My team aren’t worried at all,” she insists. “Being an Executive or Personal Assistant is so much more than following processes and completing straightforward tasks. To my knowledge there is no AI currently available that could replicate or replace the work of a thorough, multitasking, compassionate, forward-thinking EA or PA.”

But while the development of AI won’t mean replacement, it could mean change.

“As technology advances, EAs and PAs will need to keep up with the times of course and retrain where necessary to be able to utilise such advancements,” suggests Koszegi. “But at this stage I see no real threat that any part of the role would become obsolete. Instead, I believe AI will likely enhance the role. EAs and PAs are already indispensable because of the personal touch they’re able to provide to the people they support. It’s even in the title - personal assistant.”

So how does an assistant make sure they embrace rather than reject this new age technology that is rapidly learning to do their jobs?

“In many cases, an assistant is more ‘fluent’ in technology than those they work for,” explains Suzanna. “I know many IT illiterate senior executives who heavily rely on their assistant to connect, synch, update devices. Further training on new technologies and being able to utilise these skills and provide support will make them even more indispensable, so a personal or executive assistant who is up to date with latest technology and AI is much more valuable in my opinion.”

So it would seem the key is not to fear this evolving culture, but to evolve with it.


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Tay Associates was established nearly 20 years ago with the mission of being the best recruiter of PA and business support staff in London, and we’ve achieved this by being consistent in our values, attitude and work ethic, but evolving with the market and our clients to stay on top of our game.

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