Robots have been utilised for decades in a number of industries from manufacturing to the automotive sector. In recent years, they have been introduced into other sectors, for example, self-service kiosks in supermarkets and fast food chains such as McDonald's, surgical robots and even construction with a robotic bricklayer named The Hadrian X. A recent report by the World Economic Forum predicted that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than 5 million jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020 (a conservative estimate). Experts predict that a breaking point of implementing robotics into our workforce is imminent and that even the more developed countries of the world simply aren’t prepared for such a drastic change. So, are robots an opportunity or a threat to our future employment status?
A change in our future digital landscape can have both an exciting and disruptive impact on society. The opportunity aspect can be both positive and negative, the positive aspect falls in the benefits organisations can gain from increased production and speed. The negative aspect falls between the impact the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can have on jobs. The fact that technology and machine learning are reaching new extremes is a promising achievement. On the other hand, if we wager everything on new digital infrastructure, one that is not completely secure jobs can potentially be replaced quicker than can be created.
“The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." - Stephen Hawking.
A study produced by Oxford University predicts that more than 40% of occupations could be threatened by automation over the next two decades. The study examined over 700 professions and skills, discovering that certain occupations may be computerised sooner than others. Dr Osborne said, “…as big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk.”
Jobs in transportation, logistics, and office/administrative support are believed to be at high risk as well as occupations within the service industry. We have already witnessed technology taking control over many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs and it would seem that this new wave of AI could be set to do the same. Ocado is one of the most recent companies to hire a new style of the workforce. Paul Clarke, Ocado’s Technology Officer explains "this warehouse is crammed with machine learning and algorithms that are controlling all manner of operations that are invisible to the human eye.” The company insists that despite the increase of automation its workforce has continued to grow, stating that they have no choice but to invest in new technology.
"We are a net employer of 12,000 people, none of whom would have a job at all if it weren't for our use of automation because this has been our differentiator as a business." - Paul Clarke, Technology Officer | Ocado.
Nevertheless, for every job created by robotic automation, several more will be eliminated completely. As a result, this could have a devastating effect on the future of our employment. AI has caused a divide in opinion, it is expected that our younger generation will take a relaxed approach to the role of robotics. However, according to research concerns over AI peak among millennials, in fact, 41% of which worry about the rise of the machines. This suggests that our youth of today have the utmost concerns of uncertainty and unemployment. Ironically those who are worried most are more likely to invest in new technologies that could help increase the development of AI’s role. Which insinuates that despite our growing concern this does not stop us from embracing new inventions.
Can AI be considered as an opportunity or threat?
As the job market evolves some skills will, of course, be affected by future advancements in technology and processes. The future remains uncertain and we do not expect these changes to have a huge immediate impact upon the workforce. We have key lessons to learn from the end of the industrial era, where our reaction time was slow and as a result has had a knock-on effect on the employment status of an entire generation. The rise of robotics is an opportunity that many organisation will want to explore. However, the threat lies with how quickly our Politicians can prioritise this subject matter and help avoid problems we encountered from the end of the industrial era.