Forget Robots, Blockchain Technology May Be the Real Threat to Your Job

Blockchain isn't just the technology behind the Bitcoin craze. It could also mean the end of the middle manager.
Blockchain isn’t just the technology behind the Bitcoin craze. It could also mean the end of the middle manager. LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

The buzz around blockchain has reached unavoidable levels—from cryptocurrencies to tracking where your Thanksgiving turkey is coming from, it seems everyone is abuzz. And while most take a decades-long view to consider the future of Bitcoin and whether token sales can replace venture capital, a large and disruptive move is already here: blockchain may mean the end of the middle manager.

For decades, middle managers have been key to the operational flow of many American corporations. They take the strategic vision of senior management and ensure it’s executed at the functional, day-to-day level. Responsibilities vary but generally include ensuring performance and quality, managing compensation, and serving as a facilitator.

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Traditionalists say this is a necessary component of an organization, freeing senior management to think strategically and move away from the day-to-day, while building a talent bench of the next generation of senior managers. Detractors ask what a middle manager actually adds to the bottom line, pointing to an unclear or difficult to define return on investment.

The truth, as is often the case, lies somewhere in the middle. But it may not matter.

Many organizations have clear, tangible, quantifiable key performance indicators for day-to-day functions, like sales closed or widgets shipped. With the advent of smart contracts on blockchain, it’s clear: robots aren’t the only ones gunning for your job. Blockchain technology is too.

A smart contract is code designed to facilitate, verify or enforce performance of set terms. This code simply plays the role of trusted facilitator between two parties and, deployed with blockchain technology, it is an infallible enforcer of the set terms 24/7, 365 day a year. No vacation time, office politics or salary needed.

Notably, this is not a far-off concept—it’s something that, in many situations, could be implemented tomorrow.

One company already deploying a solution for smart contract-verified work is HUMAN Protocol, which offers a new approach to machine intelligence, allowing machines to ask humans for the data they need to improve. HUMAN is rolling out its worker interface which lists tasks and relevant parameters (including compensation). A human claims a task using this dashboard, completes the work, the work is peer-verified for quality, and compensation is released.

The smart contract offers an efficiency nearly impossible to match with human effort, especially when verifying for quality. The first public HUMAN Protocol effort, hCaptcha, works to crowdsource image labeling by deploying a replacement for the reCAPTCHA “Are you a Robot” puzzles many of us experience each day. In these hCaptcha campaigns, HUMAN might ask 200 users whether an image contains a fire hydrant or cat, relying on the human wisdom of the crowd. Given a statistically-satisfactory number of responses, the smart contract will eventually consider the image accurately labeled and compensate the workers accordingly.

Tasks like image labeling are low-hanging fruit and efforts like HUMAN Protocol are only the beginning. Deloitte published a blog which describes the potential impact of blockchain on human resources, from payroll and verifying certifications to digital process management. The right blockchain and set of smart contracts could take the place of several HR positions in a large organization.

It has been estimated that robots may steal as many as 800 million jobs globally within the next 13 years, primarily in manufacturing and manual labor, but with smart contracts and blockchain technology, it’s clear that white-collar workers should also be on alert.

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