In 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that 5 million jobs would be lost to automation by 2020. Amongst the worst hit were finance and accounting professionals, with a 43% disruption rate, followed closely by mobility at 39%.
The debate amongst policymakers is no longer about the extent of permissible automation, but how soon the phaseouts can begin. The cost of robots is expected to decline by 65% between 2015 and 2025, according to a report on automation. While automation means that the demand for human work will decline, what’s interesting is that the expectations and capabilities we attach to robots is likely to see a a almost equivalent rise. Visual Capitalist has predicted that AI alone will have an economic impact of $15.7 trillion by 2030.
Even the human job market of the future will assess a human’s ability to work with robots—with a premium for those who can work with robots with the most sophisticated skillsets.
In other words, the workplace of the future has robots with resumes. And contrary to current concerns, that’s good news for humans.
Automation means humans focus on their best
As a speaker at a recent AI conference said, “Robots are not eliminating jobs. They are eliminating tasks.” That’s a simple description of a macroeconomic issue, that in its fold, contains the debate for:
– Mass displacement/migration/refugee crisis
– Universal basic income
It’s also correct. Many highly-skilled professions—accounting, quantitative research and business analysis still build on repetitive processes that require meticulousness, time and a competitive skillset. Any resulting analysis will reflect the errors and biases fed into the initial data input. By allowing robots to take over the grunge work in data mining and management, we reduce the error rate, turnaround time, and human bias from the output. We do something else too: We free humans to do what they’re supposed to do: think and create.
A deeper, more penetrative data analysis is possible with algorithms taking over the slicing and dicing of large datasets. Those who worry about the obsolescence of bookkeeping need not worry: It’s freeing up traditional bookkeepers to take on more complex accounting work. With that, they can make tougher, better, fairer decisions with the same data.
Skills robots add to their resumes don’t threaten human abilities, they complement them.
Automation Will Create Jobs
Airport taxis, overnight hotels, inhouse restaurant dining: One might say they’re all heading towards a gradual elimination. But is that really the elimination of the industry or how work in that industry was traditionally done?
Our vote is with the latter. Digital cameras didn’t kill photography—they created demand and competition for a more universal brand of photography and image manipulation and introduced humans to possibilities that had previously eluded them. Even after a decline of 11% CAGR, the global demand for digital cameras is predicted to be US$ 8.9 billion in 2023.
Likewise, business intelligence software will not kill demand for business analysts. It will simply hold them to a higher standard.
Even what used to be purely “techie” fields—cybersecurity and machine learning, for example, have expanded to include a wider range of industries as customers. In other words, for every human JD eliminated by a robot, several more have been created. According to a 2018 WEF report, “the rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.”
Reskilling Of People
Given that the vast potential of human employment remains unfulfilled, why are people so worried about their jobs?
A big reason is that in all stages of industrialization so far, machines overtook the physical burden of human labor. Industry was also less organized—making reskilling and job movement easier, and unemployment comparatively shorter-lived.
The challenge with Industry 4.0 is that it’s taking over human thinking: If machines learn how to think and take decisions, what will people do?
The second reason is that robots are taking over the qualitative as well: Earlier this year, an IBM robot lost to a human in a debate, albeit narrowly. In 2017, Nutella hired an algorithm to design unique artwork for 7 million jars. Each jar was sold. Futurist Jose Cordeiro even predicted that the Nobel Prize in Literature may be won by a robot, perhaps before 2045.
Sounds formidable, doesn’t it?
But it isn’t. In 1996, Bill Gates predicted the need for regular human reskilling.
Peter Drucker went even farther, advocating ‘second careers’ as early as 1968. Income is a powerful incentive for developing skills. If we remove the anxiety associated with joblessness, and make reskilling proactive and a normal course of business, would it be a bad thing?
Cheaper, Better Services, Now For The Marginalized
In a FinTech session this year, one microfinance leader had an interesting observation: Mobile/internet connectivity had greatly increased demand for microfinance in rural Pakistan, while simultaneously increasing the need for the bank’s brick and mortar presence in those areas. Said differently, conventional businesses need to adapt rapidly to robots in the workplace. But for businesses aimed at the disenfranchised, robots could be the missing plank in the bridge of development. They won’t do away with human effort, they’ll make it possible.
It is no wonder then, that remote health, microfinance, education for street children and sanitation solutions benefit more from apps than they do from their un-integrated counterparts. Outreach, customer profiling, responsiveness, adaptation to changing market dynamics: Robots just do it better.
marginalized 736 million people in the world, a robot with a resume could be the answer they were waiting for.