Since the first industrial revolution, there has been a recurrent fear that technology advancements will displace humans from their jobs even though they also give room for new jobs that require new skills.
In 1589, Queen Elizabeth I reportedly refused to grant the inventor of a mechanical knitting machine a patent for fear of putting manual knitters out of work. When the knitting machine was eventually implemented, it provided jobs for operators and technicians.
Currently, especially in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, futurists have projected a future where artificial intelligence (AI) will replace many jobs. A 2017 study by Mckinsey revealed that 800 million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to AI by 2030.
The Robot Apocalypse
In January, Amazon launched an AI-powered store, Amazon Go with no cashiers or registers. All customers have to do is download the Amazon Go app, walk into the store, pick up goods of their choice and walk out. Their Amazon account automatically gets charged for what they take.
We are currently experiencing the trend of automation in the way we live and work; from self-driving cars, virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, payment solutions, chatbots, AI-powered predictions like Google Maps, to smart email categorisation and a ton of others. The era of automation is inevitable, it is progress and it has been often described as socially destructive.
The fear is that while AI will bring radical increase in efficiency in industry, for many, it will translate into uncertainty and unemployment as their jobs would be replaced by machines.
The biggest losers or winners
Since technology has already taken many traditional manufacturing jobs, many futurists believe that a similar fate may befall the middle class soon enough.
In an article titled This is the most dangerous time for our planet, on The Guardian, the late renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking said, “ the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of AI is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining”.
He further projected that this job destruction would lead to further financial inequality because only a small group of people who own these advanced technologies will make enormous profits while employing only an even smaller group of people, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
This is especially worrisome in an economy like Nigeria’s where the middle class is only just growing after years of being almost non-existent.
Then again, we don’t seem to be at immediate risk since we are still struggling to keep up with the rise of advanced technologies. However, we are at the risk of remaining on the poor side of the global financial gap.
Countering Stephen Hawking’s doomsday projections, economists have explained that automation will only bring about more jobs, many citing the invention of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) as a perfect example.
When ATMs were introduced in the 1970s, many worried that they would replace bank branches and tellers, leading to mass unemployment. However, because ATMs reduced the cost of operation, the number of bank branches increased.
And while the number of tellers per branch decreased, because there were more branches, there were more employment opportunities for tellers. Their jobs then evolved to include more important duties like building relationships with bank customers.
This trend, which also occurred in many other industries including manufacturing, is proof that automation will only result in the creation of more jobs. A research by Gartner suggests that by 2020, 1.8 million jobs will be automated but 2.3 million new jobs will be created.
Is your job susceptible to automation?
According to current trends, manual and repetitive jobs like those of cashiers and bookkeepers are some of the most easily automated jobs. On the other hand, jobs that require empathy, creativity, problem solving, social intelligence and negotiating skills are less likely to be automated.
Therefore, social workers, psychologists, nurses, designers, writers, engineers and those in managerial positions are considerably less at risk from automation.
Securing the jobs of tomorrow
As technology trends evolve rapidly, only those who choose not to evolve with it would find themselves out of jobs. As robots and automation replace manual and repetitive jobs, there’ll be an increased demand for high-skilled workers including computer programmers, engineers, creative thinkers and problem solvers.
In order to prepare workers for this transition, there would be a need for the government to invest in human capital.
Suggest Read: How to stay employable in the era of automation
American economist, Andrew McAfee suggests that students should pursue a mix of problem-solving, creativity, and critical-thinking skills as well as quantitative and technological skills.
For workers to be more employable, they‘d need to constantly upgrade their skills and education to stay abreast of the evolving economy.
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