Are robots about to make you redundant? Are you going to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)? If you’re not sure about the answer to these questions, a website called Will Robots Take My Job? can give you a pretty good idea.
When I came across it, I quickly checked it out, and I must say that I’m thrilled and relieved that there’s only a 3.8% chance of my job being automated. But not everyone is going to be as lucky.
AI disruption isn’t something that’s going to happen decades from now in a dystopian world that demands Elon Musk’s kill switch. In fact, it’s slowly digitally transforming every industry imaginable right now.
At present, enterprises are leveraging AI to accelerate responsiveness and reduce operational complexities. This approach essentially augments knowledge-intensive areas that demand extensive planning, management, and real-time tracking.
So you could say that AI will essentially make all our jobs a lot easier and more effective. However, in the essence of any technological revolution, the fact remains that some jobs will be extinct sooner than later.
What’s Driving the AI Revolution?
At the moment, AI is enhancing human capabilities and helping us make more intelligent data-driven decisions. But in the long term, AI will usher in the most disruptive era in recorded history.
According to PwC, AI has created the biggest commercial opportunity in today’s fast-changing economy that will boost the global GDP by as much as 14% (the equivalent of an additional $15.7 trillion) by 2030.
Last summer, Gerard Verweij, PwC's Global Data & Analytics Leader, said “no sector or business is in any way immune from the impact of AI. The impact on productivity alone could be competitively transformational and even disruptive. Businesses that fail to apply AI, could quickly find themselves being undercut on turnaround times as well as costs and experience, and may lose a significant amount of their market share as a result.”
So the challenge for enterprises will be to identify and secure the right technology, data, and talent to enable effective AI-driven transformation. For the rest of us, if our careers are threatened by AI, it’s time to become highly adaptable to navigate through this increasingly competitive landscape.
According to PwC’s AI Impact Index, the impact of smart technology will be most felt in the following industries:
- Automotive (with autonomous vehicles, smart driver assistance, ride sharing fleets, and predictive autonomous maintenance)
- Energy (with highly efficient grid operations and storage, intelligent infrastructure maintenance, and smart metering)
- Financial Services (with transaction automation, personalized financial planning, and smart fraud detection)
- Healthcare (with smart image diagnostics, data-driven diagnostic support, and pandemic identification)
- Manufacturing (with optimized supply chains and production, on-demand production, enhanced monitoring, and auto-correction)
- Retail (with customer insights generation, personalized design, personalized production, smart inventory, and delivery management)
- Technology, Communications, and Entertainment (with content creation, personalized advertising, personalized marketing, media archiving, and search)
- Transport and Logistics (with smart traffic control and reduced congestions, autonomous trucking and delivery, and enhanced security)
Which Jobs Are at Risk of Automation?
Jobs are already being replaced by machines. For example, in 2016, the largest contract manufacturer for iPhones in China, Foxconn, laid off 60,000 factory workers and replaced them with industrial robots.
These robots called “Foxbots” were developed by the company to automate 20 everyday manufacturing tasks. They achieved it by first automating dangerous tasks, then focused on process line automation, and finally shifted a small number of employees on to logistics and quality control.
Nike’s investment in the California-based industrial robotics startup Grabit suggests that something similar is happening in Vietnam, Indonesia, and China.
Foxconn went on to back robotics startups around the world like Canada’s Kinova Robotics, (which mostly develops industrial service robots) and China’s cloud robotics company CloudMinds. So you can expect other industrial heavyweights to all follow a similar path.
However, this doesn’t mean that only jobs that demand physical activity will be replaced. In fact, as much as 10 million jobs may be at risk within five years (and if course, this is up for debate).
According to research conducted by Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey and Professor Michael A. Osborne, the following jobs have a 99% chance of being automated in the near future:
- Cargo and Freight Agents
- Data Entry Keyers
- Insurance Underwriters
- Library Technicians
- Mathematical Technicians
- New Accounts Clerks
- Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
- Sewers (by hand)
- Tax Preparers
- Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
- Watch Repairers
In another study, researchers took an in-depth look at 46 countries that represented 80% of the global workforce and found that almost half the jobs people are paid to do have the potential of being automated with the technology that’s available today.
Countries where the potential of automation is the highest are as follows:
- China – (where as much as 51% of jobs can be automated)
- Europe Big Five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom) – 47%
- India – 52%
- Japan – 55%
- U.S. A. – 46%
While the above might come as a shock to some, it’s important to note that although the technical potential exists, it’s certainly not going to happen overnight. In fact, it will take years to realize AI’s true potential (to disrupt current work-related activities).
The pace of transformation and its impact on workers will vary from industry to industry. It will also vary across occupations, skill levels, activities, and wages. What will determine the pace automation and the extent of automation will depend on multiple variables.
Some factors to consider are as follows:
- Competition with labor (demand dynamics, supply, and skills)
- Cost of technology
- Development of technological capabilities
- Performance benefits (beyond labor cost savings)
- Social and regulatory acceptance
So how do we prepare for the inevitable era of extensive automation? There isn’t an easy answer to this question, but let’s try to answer it anyway.
How to Prepare for the Automation Era
As mentioned before, going forward, only businesses that embrace AI technologies will remain competitive and relevant. However, to get there, they have to get the ball rolling now.
As AI takes over more and more routine tasks, the nature of work will probably change as humans will be free to focus on more meaningful projects. It's also highly likely to usher in a new era where human qualities like creativity, curiosity, emotional intelligence, imagination, and social intelligence will be the key differentiator in commercial markets.
Enterprises that plan on automating repetitive activities should also focus on providing training programs to up-skill current employees. At the same time, they should also train highly technical employees to fill the AI-talent gap.
Some organizations have also developed their own certification programs to help employees acquire knowledge and expertise internally, and we can expect to see a lot more of that. GE Global Research is an excellent example of this as they have already set up online programs for machine learning (ML) and other AI-related skills.
To date, hundreds of employees have already completed their certification program for data analytics and taken on new roles within the corporation.
The demand for top tech talent in the AI space like data scientists, ML engineers, and business intelligence developers will grow exponentially. At the same time, we’ll also see the emergence of new AI-driven job categories like the following:
- Trainers (who help AI systems learn, perform, fix errors, and mimic human behaviors)
- Explainers (to interpret algorithm results to enhance transparency and accountability for AI decision marking and processes)
- Sustainers (to help ensure that AI stays true to business goals without crossing ethical lines or reinforcing bias)
But beyond the human factor, organizations who leverage AI to take advantage of higher throughput, lower labor costs, and enhanced safety will also be able to expand into new markets and grow into a massively scaled business (with seamless measuring and monitoring protocols).
However, these businesses should also formulate a plan to manage consequential errors that can occur at a greater scale. As a result, AI-driven transformation will also require stronger quality control that’s probably going to be a joint human-machine effort.
Businesses looking to initiate AI-driven digital transformation should start by listing all work-related activities in detail to identify areas that can be highly automated. While a lot of processes can be automated, it might not always be beneficial or feasible, so it’ll require significant research and analysis.
Business leaders should also take into account the potential impact AI can have on their workforce and initiate training programs before deployment.
In the months ahead, we can expect more software-only automation (especially in the cloud) adopted at an accelerated pace because it doesn’t demand any change to the overall (physical) infrastructure. As adoption gradually increases, we can expect to see more hardware dependent transformation across industries.
AI in the workplace will rapidly become the new norm, so businesses and employees should start thinking about it and acting on it right away. However, this doesn’t mean the end of work for us humans, just the end of work as we know it.