Nathan takes a seat at his desk early on a Monday morning, glances at his watch and suddenly remembers that he has two meetings, a conference call and an appraisal… all before lunch. He opens his laptop to start his daily routine of checking his mails but a red flagged email catches his eye. The mail bears the title “URGENT READ NOW”. Curious, Nathan opens the mail to find directions from his boss to hand in his one month’s notice and start looking around for an alternate job. The reason as stated in the mail? “We have invested in a more efficient resource: the SmartBot to complete your tasks which will save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run”. Nathan is shocked; what other human being could beat his keen intellect, his bachelors, masters and professional qualifications and be more cost-effective? He starts to panic and then wakes up just as the distinct sound of buzzing drifts through the door.
To many of us, living in the 21st century with its technological climate; this nightmare is very real: will the day come when the bots take our jobs?
Technology has had continuously effected the labor market and the economy, advances in technology have generally led to a rise in income levels overall. The integration of software, artificial intelligence and robotics into industries such as production and manufacturing has meant that businesses in these industries have contributed towards a boost in production and growth in GDP. Most observers now think that the latest set of disruptive innovations that emerged over the last few years will have an even greater impact on real income and hint at a fall of the labor share of national income over the next few years.
Research has shown that 45% of work activities can be automated using existing tech. Further, advances in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation and robotics may negate human involvement not only in repetitive jobs such as data entry, book keeping and assembly but also by making software systems more intelligent. With advances in machine learning, software will be able to study, analyze and practice human behaviors with more complex tasks such as report writing and translating and thereafter be able to execute the same task with higher level of perfection than their human counter-parts. But does this mean that the robots are coming to steal our jobs? The answer is no.
Research on the subject states that “Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined.” In fact, the extent of the change is more likely to be along the scale of the impact that the automated teller machine (ATM) had on bank tellers.
There are, however, many ways that technology will change the nature of work across multiple industries and job roles:
AI will be able to automate, to a considerable degree many jobs that previously needed human intervention to operate. Tools such as Quill created by Narrative Science can read and analyze raw data which it will then use to generate reports which look as though they have been written by a human author; only with far less mistakes. Amazon acquired robotics company Kiva Systems whose robots helped them to automate their processes of planning, navigating and coordinating between individual robots to fulfill warehouse orders four times faster.
Integrating AI into the workplace also means that business processes will need to be redefined. This could mean well established practices such as loan processing, common diagnoses in hospitals along with the field of research and development could change. By introducing AI, the human process will be augmented, making it easier for you to apply for a loan, save time spent in line at hospitals and help you scan hundreds of documents in a few minutes using data mining.
There would also be a significant impact on senior positions demanding high wages as a portion of their work such as report generation and analysis to make decisions can be automated. This leaves CEOs, Senior executives and others more time to do higher level analytical work and really use their experience and time to further their business and in turn the economy.
Philosophers and economists such as Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes made strong cases about how the advent of AI would mean that humans would enjoy a “reduction to working time” and a “shorter working week”. Bringing this concept into the 21st century is the duo from MIT; Andrew McAfee and his colleague Erik Brynjolfsson who described the future as one that will see more complex technologies and fewer jobs. The duo who introduced the concept of the second machine age say that by integrating automated technology into our lives, we are setting ourselves up for continued success where; “output goes up over time, while at the same time, prices go down, and volume and quality just continue to explode”. They also state that we are most-likely heading towards a future where humans should invite automation into their lives as it leaves them free to do more complex and analytical tasks.
Short-term solutions to ensure humans stay relevant include stimulating job growth through encouraging entrepreneurship and investing in infrastructure. These are actions that are difficult for bots to do, and will enable the transition of the economy into one that is run on innovation and is very productive.
The bots may yet be coming to take our jobs, but this means that we as humans are free to imagine a different type of society where creativity and innovation thrive and become the cornerstones of success.