The pace of technological change today is being called the “fourth industrial revolution.” New solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning are enabling machines to handle processes that once required human decision-making. Just as mechanical muscle lowered the demand for physical labor in the first industrial revolution, today cutting-edge technology is reducing the demand for human intervention.
The “migration” of tasks from humans to software and machines has been evident for quite some time. From ATMs to automated check-in at airports, technology has been performing relatively simple and repetitive tasks. Today, this transformation allows much more complex and nuanced tasks to move from human speed to machine speed, across industries that have remained largely untouched by machine intervention.
Most recently, AI and cognitive systems have found a place in legal discovery, insurance applications, underwriting and claims processing, and the delivery of financial investment advice. In healthcare, telemedicine allows diagnosis and monitoring without the need to physically see a clinician, and a surgeon can operate from another hospital or country—just more examples of where jobs long understood as “human” are being displaced by technology.
The automation option
New opportunities for automation will continue to appear, as mechanization, automation, AI, and robotics replace human workers. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As “traditional” roles are replaced, new jobs will be created in the transition—jobs that require creativity, innovation, and strategic thought. As we do away with mundane work, the time gained through automation can be used to innovate, germinate ideas, and conceive new processes fueled by the kind of thinking that only happens when our minds have time to wander.
The beginning of a sweeping societal change?
The World Economic Forum, economists, analysts, and labor organizations have predicted a wave of job losses due to the surge in AI, robotics, and other technologies. We could see a net loss of 7.1 million jobs over the next five years in the 15 leading countries that make up approximately 65 percent of the world’s total workforce. But two million of the jobs will be offset by the creation of new positions that will support and foster the new wave of innovation, beyond what we see as credible or possible today.
But as some roles are automated, others will come online; for instance, individuals who can build, develop and make sense of these sweeping changes. Developers, programmers, scientists, and technologists will—more than ever—be required to drive forward the accelerating pace of change. There will also be a greater need for economists, lawyers, and policy makers who can interpret how governance, intellectual property, and society at large will have to adapt. While algorithms may automate decision-making, it won’t be easy to replace leaders who can navigate this new fast-paced, intense change.
At the end of the day, you may wonder if a machine could do your job. And the answer is that it could probably do some of it. And that’s okay, because automation will free us up to do more of the thinking required to come up with what’s next, perhaps with the help of a new robot friend or two.