In the soon-to-be-released book, “The Robots Are Coming!: The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation" by Andres Oppenheimer, the author looks ahead to a landscape that will see, according to the experts he interviews, forty-seven percent of existing jobs at risk of becoming automated or rendered obsolete by technological changes in the next twenty years.
We often hear that hairdressers and other “touch” professionals are immune to these changes…but are they? For an expert and always-insightful take on the situation, we turned to Antony Whitaker, an internationally-acclaimed stylist-turned-educator, business coach, and best-selling author and a John Paul Mitchell Systems Collaborator.
MODERN SALON: Are the robots coming for hairdresser’s jobs? If so, why? If not, why?
Antony Whitaker: AI is changing the way that many industries operate and hairdressing is not immune to those changes. The big question is always, ‘Will robots ever be able to cut hair?’ In my opinion the answer is, ‘Of course they will!’ And I base that opinion on the fact that if robots are capable of doing surgery [and they do] then the technology is definitely there. However the reason why hairdressers shouldn’t feel threatened is that it simply isn’t financially viable to develop the technology to get robots cutting hair.
The role of the human in hairdressing is definitely undergoing change; there have been robot shampoo units for some time, there are robot receptionist in hotels, there are robots delivering coffee in hotels, so it’s inevitable that AI will have a place in the salon industry but always at a cost.
AI will not replace human beings, but will enable human beings to perform their jobs more efficiently by making the business infrastructure more intelligent and reliable which allows the hairdresser to focus on innovation, creativity and client service.
Do ‘bots’ have a creative capacity? The argument has always been that creativity comes from imagination, that your heart and soul are part of it and therefore bots weren’t capable of the creative process. But bear in mind that a piece of art created by AI was sold at a Christies auction last year for $432,500. So bots definitely could come for the artists too!
I imagine that all of us have dealt with AI bots in the capacity of the company interface of ‘automated voice commands’ on the telephone, or by using Siri or Google Assist. That AI technology has improved dramatically and will continue to do so and now in many cases it is often undetectable from genuine human interaction.
The challenge is that when we know we are dealing with a ‘bot’ instead of a genuine human that our desire to invest any emotional energy in the form of ‘good manners’ ‘genuine care’ or ‘empathy’ into the transaction will start to disappear.
MS: How can stylists start to ‘future-proof’ their careers?
AW: They need to capitalize on the emotional energy that the ‘bots’ can’t deliver, they need to look for opportunities to enhance and personalize the client experience and every stage of the client journey.
Hairdressers need to focus on their creativity, personality, ability to have fun, and interpret and interact accordingly with the full range of human emotions relevant to cues that exist in every human interaction.