From self-checkout kiosks to self-driving cars, the rapid acceleration of technology and simultaneous growth of economic inequality over the last several decades have sparked new fears that artificial intelligence (AI) could soon eliminate a number of jobs. But while commentators have tended to focus on the question of whether automation could cause mass unemployment over the long term, what are some of the shorter-term effects of automation on the labor market?
In a new report for the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, RSF grantee Frank Levy (MIT) projects how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect the economy in the next five to seven years, and the subsequent effects that these economic changes could have on politics. Drawing from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Levy shows that the jobs most vulnerable to near-term automation are not low-skilled jobs, as many assume.
As he points out, many low-skilled jobs — such as janitorial jobs and home health aide jobs — required unstructured conversation and unstructured physical movement, making them extremely difficult to automate. On the other end of the spectrum, high-skilled occupations that require unstructured cognitive work are similarly unlikely to be subject to AI. Instead, it is middle-skilled occupations — jobs like medical transcription and assembly line work — that are most vulnerable. As Levy writes, “on balance, near-term AI will have the greatest effects on blue-collar work, clerical work, and other mid-skilled occupations.”
Our world is changing at an exponential pace – and the key drivers are automation and AI. Within this context I must stress that real innovation in automation and AI is driven by software, which nowadays is at the core of manufacturing plants, financial processes, customer relationships, and customer experience.
The development of the software itself is becoming more automated and also enriched with “intelligence“. The software that “learns to learn” will realize the utopia of self-writing software – software written alone through a self-learning mechanism.
Opportunities through automation
The opportunities that automation and AI bring are endless, and at the same time a source of great concern. Take for example the recent case that occurred at the Facebook research lab, where scientists and engineers had to block an experiment that involved two AI programs after discovering that two robots had begun to interact – speaking a language unknown to humans and only understood only by them.
The idea that two machines can find a way to communicate autonomously is among those that has fueled fears that AI can become powerful enough to be completely independent of humans. Is AI a resource or danger to humanity?
For some, the words “automation” and “artificial intelligence” may arouse fears of mass unemployment, an increase in inequality and a world where humans will be increasingly replaced by robots. There is no doubt that automation and AI give rise to new opportunities, but at the same time create great challenges. The fourth industrial revolution holds great potential, but we must make the right decisions in business and politics.
New working models
The greatest change in the age of automation will be represented by new working models based on collaboration between human and machine, and the blend of resources with technical-scientific and artistic-humanistic skills.
As a growing number of robots are set to perform routine jobs, people will take on new roles such as robotic engineering, data analytics, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as tasks that require unique human qualities – like creativity, initiative, leadership and teamwork to generate innovation and promote the progress of humanity.
Everything that is currently vulnerable in a company in terms of data and business continuity will be even more so tomorrow, notes hbr.org. AI will offer great advantages, but at the same time it will force companies to face new threats, and so it will be essential to combat certain risks of AI by resorting to AI itself. And in this case, it will be the responsibility of each of us to make this possible.
Automated jobs in the future
According to some studies, a number of jobs ranging between nine and 50 percent could be automated in the future. However, I would like to stress that these estimates do not define the overall picture. It is true, that almost all of today’s workplaces contain some aspect that can be automated thanks to existing technologies. McKinsey estimates that 30% of the activities carried out today within 60% of jobs can be automated.
But it is equally true that very few jobs are destined to disappear completely in the short-term. According to several studies, only 5% of today’s total work could be replaced by the technologies currently in use.
Combining humanistic and scientific skills
Companies will need to combine humanistic and scientific skills within new multidisciplinary work teams, made up of resources with diverse profiles and backgrounds. For example, the expert in cyber security may have to work with psychologists. This blend, which can be summarized as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), represents a great opportunity for the next generation.
In a world of work increasingly impacted by automation, one of the priorities will be to promote constructive collaboration solutions between human and machines. In many areas, robots are being replaced by “cobots” or “collaborative robots” – robots that collaborate with humans as “assistants” in the context of an activity or process or “guide”, designed to act according to human instructions or to react to human behavior and actions.
Cobots can be a valuable help for workers as they learn from them how to perform tasks more quickly, efficiently and accurately. It is no longer a matter of machines capable of performing repetitive movements, but of machines capable of “learning”, “thinking” and “acting” alongside us.
The challenge for companies will be to adapt the organization, the processes, the operating models and the management of resources.
In Finland, CA Technologies has started a collaborative “cobotics” project with the Tampere University of Technology and Tieto to explore how to further secure the workflows between human and robot.
Upskilling for the future of work
Human skills will continue to play a crucial role in the modern workplace. However, it is essential to ensure that current and future workers acquire the knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of the changing nature of work.
More attention needs to be paid to upskilling and reskilling programs. This theme took a leading role at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos, which ended with the launch of a new initiative called the “IT Industry Skills Initiative” where CA Technologies is one of the founding members.
Initiatives like these are a first small step to empower people around the world to seize the opportunities this new era offers. The future of work is in our hands. By making the right decisions in the political and business environments, we will be able to realize all the benefits of this new wave of innovation.