When we think about how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact our lives, there is both wonderment and fear. The wonder is tied to the spectacle of seeing robots move, grasp and carry out tasks with speed and efficiency. The fear is that robots will take over our jobs.
Being in the tech industry, I don’t believe robots will replace all jobs. They will reshape the type of work humans will concentrate on, but the fear that robots or AI will edge out humans for most jobs is unfounded.
Consulting firm PwC studied the impact of robotics and AI on a global scale and found that vulnerabilities do exist for job loss due to automation and robotics, especially over the longer term as smart technologies like driverless cars mature. However, through the early 2020s, only about 3% of jobs have the potential to be displaced. PwC also predicts that robotics, AI and smart automation have the potential to contribute more than $15 trillion towards the global gross domestic product by 2030, generating demand for more jobs.
Secondly, AI is more than a machine-like robotic arm or the humanoid robots we see in movies like I, Robot. AI-based software applications can automate business processes, such as creating routine purchase orders in business software to help the human resources team better process resumes.
Where does this leave us? It’s clear that technology is changing the nature of work. However, robots won’t take over most jobs — and they will likely create new ones. We’ll still need technologists to develop, deploy and maintain smart automation to help boost the economy with innovations and efficiencies. It’s also certain that society will have to adapt to the future of work.
We may not know exactly which jobs will change and when, but here are my five predictions for the future:
1. Overall, robots can’t replace humans.
Technologists and engineers will be needed to develop and maintain AI-based systems and smart automation. Take a look at the number of tech jobs that are open in today’s market. Other professionals such as teachers, caregivers and creatives will still have jobs. However, they’ll need to “retool” themselves and adjust to a tech-friendly environment.
The bigger upside for the human workforce is that, by automating the more mundane, repetitive or back-breaking tasks, more jobs can focus on higher-level skills that involve innovation, creativity, empathy, complex decision processes or teamwork.
2. Robots won’t eliminate the human touch.
I believe people in professions like sales, customer support, health care and education will continue to be valued because of their ability to build trust with people, motivate them and help them meet complex objectives. Robots can’t easily replicate empathy and people skills — even if several companies are working on it.
3. Robots and humans will continue to collaborate.
In industrial settings, there are collaborative robots, or co-bots, that can safely work alongside humans without being behind a cage. The robotic arm or cart has sensors that stop its motion if a person touches it or if an object is detected in its path. Such co-bots are already working alongside humans in warehouses and factories.
In retail environments, AI-based systems like chatbots or virtual personal assistants can answer routine questions from consumers and have the smarts to escalate a customer interaction to a human agent to tackle more complex request.
And drones are being used to drop off emergency medical supplies to save lives.
In short, the collaboration between humans and AI-based systems has the potential to make a company more efficient, productive and profitable.
4. More jobs will be created.
It’s rare that an entire job category is wiped out by automation. The case has been made that in the history of the industrial revolution, only one job — elevator operator — was eliminated by technology.
Yes, the tasks humans are assigned are being reshaped by automation, with more emphasis on jobs that center on innovation, teaching or mentoring, and leadership. Over the long term, a net gain in jobs may materialize as entirely new jobs are created or old ones are redefined.
5. AI opens up opportunities.
As a leader, do you ever wish you could avoid getting bogged down in mundane tasks to concentrate on what gives you the most job satisfaction? The realization of the benefits of AI and smart automation is a huge deal.
Let machines and software execute the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, while humans concentrate on what we do best: solving complex problems. Already, many progressive companies are leading the way in AI and creating new opportunities for people.
Overall, I believe the future of work is brighter with AI and robotics, assuming we start preparing now. Society, governments and educators need to inspire more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Importantly, fostering and steering more girls and women to STEM careers can help bridge the gap that exists in the tech industry.
Companies also need to put in place strategies for how humans can work alongside robots and other smart automation in the best ways. Human workers need software solutions, workflow tools and knowledge repositories to make their work as productive as possible. With birth rates dropping in industrialized countries such as the U.S., worker shortages pose a real risk, so enterprises not only need to automate select tasks with AI and robotics; they need to outfit their human workforce with technology to maximize their productivity.
Therefore, it’s unwise to ignore how the future of work is shaping up. Let’s adapt to it.
By Parna Sarkar-Basu
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