Across the globe, automation is bringing businesses into rapid innovation. Recent developments in the tech industry have put us on the cusp of a new era of automation, where machines go way beyond rote physical work. Today, these computers can form judgments and process languages. This means that hardly anybody — from bookkeepers and secretaries, to executives and clerks — are exempt from this impending shift. However, the underlying fear remains: will humans eventually lose their jobs to automation? What will the workplace of the future look like?
Research by McKinsey & Co predicts that as many as 800 million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to robots and automation by 2030 — this is equivalent to more than a fifth of today’s global labor force. While that may sound like an alarmist rhetoric, there’s a silver lining for those likely to be displaced. With the automation era will come a reinvented job landscape with new opportunities and skills to learn. Business Insider projects a significant increase in technical, people-centered jobs like lawyers, marketing specialists, nurses, agricultural managers, and more.
Historically speaking, upskilling has long been used as a means for adapting to technology. A previous post on the K2 Partnering blog highlights the 1920s innovation of the production line and the similar fears of mass unemployment that it brought. In hindsight, this period of evolution increased efficiency in the workplace and paved the way for new sectors to flourish. Through this lens, the future isn’t all gloom and doom. Automation will further transform and enhance manual industries by taking care of time-consuming, mundane tasks. That way, humans can channel their productivity into more valuable work.
Beyond the workplace, automation is also set to elevate our standards of living. Executive Director of Jain Group, Rishi Jain states that a home blessed with automated technology will work wonders for reducing maintenance and energy bills. Important chores that are easily ignored, like locking doors or switching off electronic devices, can be monitored more easily. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles are anticipated to improve safety and help to lower costs in general. Although fully autonomous cars won’t dominate our roads until 2025, today’s vehicles and devices are already employing automation technology in smaller ways. Verizon Connect outlines that while Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) were originally intended to automatically log and transmit driving hours, they have grown into something much more. Today’s ELDs can be equipped with sensors that detect and inform drivers of bad driving practices such as speeding and abrupt braking. Because driver error accounts for 94% of crashes, automation can help drivers promote good driving habits and build safer roads. This technology was rolled out in the US last December with other countries expected to adopt ELDs in the coming years.
Undoubtedly, technology has changed our world greatly. The realities that we see today — from space exploration to cross-country communication — were once just the plot of a science-fiction fantasy. But of course, automation still faces significant hurdles before its full potential can be achieved. One of the more obvious challenges is building trust among users. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and all these algorithms can be complex. Moreover, no technology is perfect. Software can still malfunction, so it can never be 100% reliable. And when hardware crashes, it is often hard to trace where it went wrong. With human error, it’s much easier to put a finger on the root of the problem.
Ultimately, the best way to approach the automation age is to ask not how many jobs will be replaced by robots, but how work can be redefined in order to achieve the most efficient integration of human skill and machines.
Bridget Fowler was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a business consultant and aspiring writer who has been investigating AI in the workforce. Her experience in advising a number of start-ups has helped her form a unique perspective on how machine learning can be integrated into the workforce. Part of her mission now is to help demystify AI and help her readers see the benefits it will bring to everyday life.