…and how the workplace is being redefined
By Ray Williams
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and “robotization,” is exerting a slow but continuous degradation on the value and availability of work—in the form of wages and the number of adult workers with full-time jobs. The widespread disappearance of jobs would usher in a social transformation unlike anything we’ve ever experienced or imagined. The issue won’t be saving jobs, it will be saving or recasting the concept of work, (which has become a religion in its own right).
Some aspects of the future world of work are already present. In my Psychology Today article, “The End of Jobs As We Have Known Them,” I argue that the jobless future is already here. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin contends we are entirely in a new phase in history, one characterized by a steady and inevitable decline of jobs. He says the world of work is being polarized into two forces: One, an information elite that controls the global economy; and the other, a growing number of displaced workers.
Job creation is very different today than it has been in the past. The newest industries being created are mostly related to computer software, and telecommunications and similar industries, are the most labor efficient and don’t require many people. Economic historian Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: Return of the Master, argues, “sooner or later, we will run out of jobs.” If Skidelsky is right, it raises the question of what will our society look like without universal work or even close to it?
In 2013, Oxford University researchers In a published paper titled: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization” C.B. Frey and M.A. Osborne, researchers at Oxford University, created a model that calculates the probability of substituting a worker in a given sector. Frey and Osborne conclude machines may replace 47% of active workers in the future.
Out of 1,896 prominent scientists, analysts, and engineers questioned in a recent Pewsurveyon the future of jobs, 48% of them said the AI revolution will be a permanent job killer on a vast scale. The Bank of England has warned that within the coming decades as many as 80 million jobs in the U.S. could be replaced by robots.
This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.
For example, men hold 97 percent of the 2.5 million U.S. construction and carpentry jobs. The Oxford study estimates that these male workers stand more than a 70 percent chance of being replaced by robotic workers. By contrast, women hold 93 percent of the registered nurse positions. Their risk of obsolescence is vanishingly small: .009 percent.
In the years ahead, everyone from doctors, lawyers and scientists to journalists, marketers and truck drivers will find themselves working alongside cognitive technologies. Computers are becoming increasingly capable of making decisions, taking complex actions, and performing “knowledge work”–which we can loosely define as producing value by processing information as opposed to physical exertion.
So rather than try to find those realms of work that won’t be touched by machines, instead consider what you can bring to your partnership with them. What human capability will remain essential to getting the work done?
An Economist special report, “The Future of Jobs,” described how entire professions will be impacted through automation and AI. Accounting and auditing examples of business functions which can increasingly be done by expert AI systems, putting these professions at risk, at least in their current form. Middle management decision making processes based on financials are similarly capable of being driven by AI algorithms.
At a recent Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) Leadership Summit on Big Data, an expert panel briefly discussed the implications of AI advances in terms of management.
As an example, airline autopilots were raised as a domain where computer decision making surpasses human decision making. Similarly, with rapid advances in computer driven automobiles, such as Google car, we are now within generational sight of the obsolescence of human drivers.
- Ray Williams is President of Ray Williams Associates, a firm based in Vancouver, providing executive coaching and professional speaking services.