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Automation and AV in 2050 – Will we be still be here?

I know, you’re pretty sick of sitting through conferences talking about “disruptors” – Uber and Airbnb and the like. “Will robots take our jobs?” they say, “Just look at the check outs, will our industry be next?”. So, we sit at the back of the room cursing the presenter and playing catch phrase bingo over comms with the audio tech sitting next to us. But how safe do we actually feel that our own jobs are? Dare I say it, should we be concerned about “AV disruption”? I’m no expert in this stuff, so like most of my writing, consider this an opinion piece only – but I reckon that with the amount of tech in our roles, we of all people should be very careful.

So according to a quick google, the only jobs that won’t get affected by the reign of AI will be creatives, maintenance foremen, therapists, teachers, healthcare workers and carers, and the leading ones to go will be drivers, warehouse and manufacturing workers, and those in customer service. I’ll say that again – those in customer service. Depending on your position, this is a pretty large chunk of the corporate AV role. But hang on, how will that work? Already, every day, we are the missing link between our customers and the technology that they hire and use. We fix their PowerPoints, lock the mics so they don’t turn them off by accident and explain to them how to use their phones when they can’t get their ringtone to work. So how will removing that customer service link in AV give presenters the confidence that their event isn’t going to come to a crashing grinding halt?

A few months ago, I was opping a small conference. We’d wrapped up and I was just hanging around ops waiting for the attendees to finish chatting and leave the room so that I could start pack-down. Sitting in the back of the room was a young girl, I’m going to say about 7 or 8 years old. She’d spent most of the show playing games on her dad’s iPad, sleeping on his lap or playing with her doll. When the show finished, Dad got up and was chatting to some of the other people and she was walking around with her doll, generally trying to amuse herself. Bored, she ended up back at ops with me and started asking questions about the equipment. “What does that do?” she said, pointing to the audio desk. I showed her that I had music playing and that if I slid the fader up it increased the volume coming out of the speakers. I explained how I could change the way things sounded, increasing the “bass” and changing the tone of different people’s voices. Then she pointed to the Barco vision switcher and asked what it did. I showed her the different inputs I had plugged in and explained that I used it to change what was up on screen. She looked perplexed for a moment – “well when all these people leave can you show me?”

I wasn’t expecting the complexity of some of the questions that she was asking. The thing she seemed to struggle with the most was the idea that we had to plug in cables – things weren’t all wireless! She probably thought that we should have an app to do it all… Putting aside the curiosity of a bored child, compare this to the confusion of the 30 year old client you had last week who wouldn’t turn on the microphone for fear that they might break something! So with that in mind, dammit, what are we going to do when they aren’t scared of the tech anymore? Kids are learning programming languages in primary school, doing robotics for fun and maintaining websites to earn pocket money – and that’s no longer just us “nerds” or “geeks”. The world is quickly changing. And I feel like our clients aren’t going to need us to hold their hands as much when they’ve had to setup their own automated home system and trust an automated car to get them to the conference centre! Trusting a computer to turn on a mic is going to feel like a breeze!

So then let’s look at the rest of our roles – if google says that “creatives” are pretty safe then that’s good news for lighting and creative camera directors! Lighting already utilises so much programming language barely under the surface of the interface (just try to setup an MA without knowing the exact order to press the buttons) that once that’s sorted it’s really the creative design aspect that makes the best LD’s. And camera mixing is often picking up live action, subjective to how people look and act. But how about audio? Band mixing is subjective, and creative, but all a band needs now is an app and they can mix their own foldback? Sure, we’ve got digital desks now that you need to “program” and navigate the systems of, but they come equipped with Dan Dugan automatic mic mixing and Behringer’s feedback destroyer. Are these going to take our jobs? Yeah, I reckon they will. They’ll nibble at the corporate conferences with a Lectern and a few roving mic’s first, but the technology is only going to get better.

But we’ll still have to set things up, you say. True, if we look back at the list earlier, one of those “safe” jobs was titled “maintenance foremen” – this is referring to a person in charge of fixing production bottlenecks and fixing problems in technology using human ingenuity. But here’s the thing – if we think about the rise of AMX control systems installed in hotels and conference centres and the fact that EVERYTHING is now networked, in our industry the maintenance foreman is pretty much going to turn into someone maintaining the backend of a piece of software and code. Remove the cables, make things wireless and we’re going to need to call in someone from IT! So maybe we need to think about scheduling ourselves in for some self-education!

So, doom and gloom aside, here’s my conclusion – until every venue has an install and every client has no expectation of making their event unique or in a different location like the pier at the beach or the local pub, then I reckon we’ll still have a job in some form. We’ll have to program the creative cues, fix the bugs in the system and make sure the wireless doesn’t go down. Or maybe we’ll just be pushing in the robot, making sure he’s charged and telling the client what do if he starts taking over the world…

I reckon that we’ll still be here for a while, hiding in black in a shadowy corner…

Trish Galea

Technical Director and Senior Audio Visual Tech, Trish loves her work in events and enjoys building teams that encourage new techs to advance their skills and confidence in their ability.

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