Ever since the time of early humans, when they determined that smashing two rocks in a specific way could create useful tools like a hand ax, the human race has been constantly searching for ways to increase business and personal efficiency by trying to find ways of making tasks quicker and easier.
Artificial intelligence is the latest technological advancement to come along and shake up the workforce.
Now, the interesting thing is that when we hear people ask if robots are going to take our jobs, the vision you are most likely seeing is one of a dystopian future, something out of a sci-fi novel or movie, where cyborgs replace humans at desks.
But the future of work will look nothing like that.
The Changing Face of Work
Already, technology does 90% of the jobs that humans used to do. Long before the first industrial revolution, most people worked in agriculture. Today, that number is down to just 2%. And most of those rely very heavily on skills and techniques learned early in their careers and at university.
Things are changing fast, though, and there is a widening digital skills gap. That gap poses a threat to anyone who cannot adapt quickly, promising to leave them behind. We have long been using technology to automate some manual tasks, but the result was never mass unemployment.
And there was, and still is, a very good reason for that.
Instead of people being continually laid off as robots took on their jobs, the nature of the jobs that were available underwent dramatic changes. People adapted to that by moving to where the work was instead of expecting it to come to them.
Another massive change was the digital revolution. We came upon a time when cell phones, computers and the internet were developed, and a large proportion of the workforce moved to work in offices, behind desks and computers.
Right now, we are facing another, a fourth industrial revolution, as robotics, AI, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and a whole host of other game-changers go mainstream. Once more, the global workforce will need to adapt to keep up with the way and the rate at which technology advances.
But we can do it.
We’ve been doing it for centuries, and it really isn’t anything we cannot copy with.
How Robots Are Used in the Workplace?
Robots are machines. Some of them resemble humans, that do mechanical, routine tasks as commanded. They began taking over our jobs back in the 1970s, when robots appeared in automotive factories to replace manual labor. These days, robots can be found in almost every kind of workplace, doing physical repetitive tasks previously done by humans. Take the 100,000+ bots used by Amazon to pack inventory, sort inventory, and more in their warehouses. Looking at it in this way, yes, it is fair to say that robots have taken a vast number of jobs from humans.
This is just one way in which the current workforce faces being shaped by automation and robotics. But as each day passes, automation continues to advance, just as the machine learning and AI fields advance. And that is where the best opportunities for jobs lie.
How AI Is Replacing People in the Workplace
AI and machine learning are under wide adoption in many different professions and businesses as a way of speeding up what were once manual processes, creating highly personalized customer experiences, and in providing data analysis and predictive analytics.
But there is no way for AI to be adopted without input from humans.
Where there are likely to be changes are in the jobs that require vast amounts of data analysis. Here we are likely to see software replace humans — software that can scan images, unstructured text and speech in vast amounts and much faster, and coming to conclusions quicker.
In the same way, farmers and factory workers will be replaced as technology advances, and adapts to a society that is increasingly becoming consumer-centric. This will affect the developing countries, such as some South American regions and India, but it will also have an effect in the US, China, and Japan.
In the western countries, stock and inventory managers, bankers, financial analysts, fast-food workers, and construction workers are all at risk of machines taking their jobs. And that is because the robots can work faster, are far more efficient, and have a much smaller error margin than the humans who do the jobs now.
Which Jobs Are Least Likely to be Replaced?
It might interest you to learn that the jobs least likely to be taken over by robots are those that rely to a large extent on interpersonal skills. Robots cannot ever hope to replace specialist counselors, help domestic abuse victims, drug addiction, and more. So, counselors, therapists and social workers can all rest happy in the knowledge that their jobs are going nowhere.
In the same way, some professions are going to reap huge benefits from automation, including startup founders, marketers, digital consultants, business developers, HR managers, and many more.
If you spend hours each day doing boring, simple, repetitive tasks before you can even get onto the important parts of your role, then automation will be the answer. Robots can take those repetitive jobs and do them for you, leaving you with more time to do the real value jobs.
Will We See Some Jobs Disappear Altogether?
Pretty much every job will be affected in some way by automation. And yes, there will be jobs that disappear altogether. Take taxis, for example. Eventually they will all be autonomous, but that is a long way off, and will happen so gradually that nobody will even notice.
In the vast majority of cases, jobs will not be eliminated by AI. Instead, it will help take the mundane part of your job out of the way and give you time to concentrate on high-value, high-impact parts of your job. But opportunities like this can only arise if we are prepared to embrace change and learn new ways of working, including working with emerging technologies.
Where Does UBI Fit In?
We couldn’t possibly talk about the future of work without, at least briefly, think about a future without work. Many of the wealthiest and technologically-inclined people, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, have already talked of something called UBI, or Universal Basic Income, as a future possibility.
Unlike other support systems in place, UBI is a proposal to give every citizen a fixed amount of money every year to allow for some standard of living. And, also unlike other systems, that money would be paid regardless of whether people worked or not. The hope is that, if you give people what they need to live, eat and provide for their families, they will still want to go out to work and earn more money.
While robots are not likely to take over our work entirely any time soon, UBI provides for a future that may be far away now. It is a future where we will have to significantly change our perceptions of money and work.
The Future Workforce
Tom Davenport once wrote in Forbes that “They say that AI and robots won’t take our jobs, but rather augment them by doing the things humans don’t do very well”. That, right there, is the future we face. Humans working side by side with machines to create interesting, exciting roles that AI and machine learning helps with, rather than humans competing with machines for their jobs.
However, it cannot happen the way we want unless we move with the times — and we need to move fast. Everyone must be prepared to take on new jobs, for their current jobs to change, and to adapt to their roles to embrace and incorporate technological advancements.
So, in answer to that question, “Will robots take our jobs?”, that is entirely in our hands.