Our world is already starting to look like the scenarios imagined by science-fiction writers.

Google just announced that the company is spinning off a separate self-driving car entity called Waymo, meanwhile Amazon is a robotics powerhouse, experimenting with drone-based delivery services, and recently opening its first grocery store with no cashiers. And robots, not people, now dispense drugs at two UCSF pharmacies.

It sounds like a dream for consumers, but it's bad news for the people who used to occupy those jobs.

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate, particularly in the realm of robotics and other automated machinery. These technological improvements have already impacted employment in some industries, and it's poised to do the same in many more over the next decade.

Experts suggest that machine intelligence is at its best in roles where minimal amounts of social intelligence, creativity, or insight are needed. Naturally, robots excel where tasks are highly repetitive, subject to automation.

Forrester forecasts that "16 percent of jobs will disappear due to automation technologies between now and 2025." And Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne claim that almost half of U.S. jobs are at a high risk of being computerized over the next 20 years.

But there's a silver lining here which is often overlooked: the creation of new opportunities resulting from these disruptive technologies. Forrester also claimed, for example, that an additional nine percent of jobs will be created (repairing, programming and maintaining robots, for instance).

The ability to easily hone new skills required of us for new roles is crucial to survival. This adaptability is precisely why self-employed people are in a unique position to thrive in the world of robots.

Adaptability is the Key to Survival

Self-employed individuals can easily occupy these new roles because of their inherent adaptability and diverse array of skills.

Adaptability is often a defining characteristic of self-employed individuals whether we realize it or not, as the nature of our work requires this skill. We often juggle multiple jobs and tasks that require a variety of skills (for example, 43 percent of people working in on-demand jobs also work a second one).

We also wear many hats, picking up new skills and expertise as the work requires. In an office job, the accounting department is always available to deal with monetary issues, but when you work for yourself, you're required to learn money management directly.

This knack for adaptability gives us an edge over robots that occupy specific tasks. A robot, after all, is anything but flexible. It sets out to perform a specific task, but can't easily switch gears into a new role when faced with a challenge, request or change in plans.

It also can't seamlessly pick up new skills or adapt by putting existing skills to work in new roles or industries. A self-driving car is just that: a vehicle which gets you from point A to point B. But if you need that self-driving car to also be a tour guide, you're out of luck.

Projecting a Happy Future for Self-Employed Workers

We're still not sure how much impact robots will have on the workforce. Will we reach an era of mass unemployment, or will robots spur us to become more productive, creative, and selective about where, how, and even if we work?

Regardless of how things turn out, one thing is sure: Adaptability will be crucial as we learn to navigate our place in this new reality. And no matter how you look at it, that's good news for the self-employed among us.

It's important to not only embrace your adaptability but to continue honing it. This will help you stay competitive in the world of rapidly advancing technologies.

Don't be afraid to wear many different hats in your role. Brush up on your accounting or marketing skills in addition to your area expertise. Take the time to learn new technical tools and embrace lifelong learning.

And if you are an on-demand worker, don't limit yourself to one platform. Working on multiple platforms not only helps ensure a steady flow of business, but the various skills required will make you more well-rounded.

Published on: Jan 3, 2017