At the start of 2018 Amazon opened Amazon Go in Seattle, a high-tech cashlierless grocery store. There is no checkout counter, customers just walk in load up their bag and go, no scanning items, no need to verify the payment.
3.5Million Americans work as cashiers
It’s easy to see why apocalyptic predictions have caused headlines like “You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—and Sooner Than You Think” reflect fears that artificial intelligence and robots will replace human labor on a mass scale and computers will become so intelligent that people will simply be unable to compete.
This negative attitude toward robots is unwarranted
Several reports have concluded that automation will displace some people from some jobs, but there will still be work for the foreseeable future. The total number of jobs may not even decline significantly, especially in more advanced economies.
Technological progress will create both winners & losers
ForeignPolicy.com points out that some workers will lose their jobs. A large share of workers will find their work changed, sometimes dramatically; others will discover that their skills are outdated. The cost of this adjustment will not be distributed equally across countries, communities, occupations, or skill levels. The transition will be especially painful for the least educated. Job growth will continue, and incomes will rise for those at the top, but wages for those at the bottom will suffer as many occupations are automated and the demand for lower-skilled routine labor, such as that of cashiers and fast-food workers, gradually decreases.
No country will be immune from the upheaval
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released what it called the Automation Readiness Index. The key finding: Not a single nation included in the study was fully prepared to address the challenge. A handful of countries with strong education, worker training, and research and development sectors — such as Germany, South Korea, and Singapore — were found to have substantial leads. But even they, along with the rest of the world, will need to take bold action to prepare for the coming automation wave.
Technology may destroy work, but it can also create it
Jobs such as app developer, social media manager, and drone operator did not exist until recently; today, millions of workers hold such titles.
Foreign Policy notes that LinkedIn, data scientist positions in the United States increased by 650 percent between 2012 and 2017. As recently as 2015, there were just over 2.3 million data science and analysis job openings in the United States, each boasting salaries of upwards of $80,000, according to a joint report by IBM, the Business-Higher Education Forum, and the data analytics company Burning Glass Technologies. In 2017, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University showed that half of all U.S. job growth from 1980 to 2007 came from the creation and expansion of brand-new job categories.
As ATMs proliferated during the 1980s and 1990s, bank tellers simply shifted their focus toward customer service. The teller job evolved into a higher-skilled position, which may have resulted in rising wages. More tellers with college degrees were hired. (Of course, tellers are not immune to the move to online banking and digital innovation, and their numbers are now declining.)
AI poses a much greater threat to the millions of low-income workers tasked with routine, predictable, and repetitive work. Office clerks, cashiers, retail sales workers, administrative assistants, waiters, fast-food cooks, and assembly workers will all be at risk.
That’s not to say all low-skilled work will go away. As the world’s population ages in the coming decades, job opportunities in the health care sector, such as home health aides and nursing assistants, are expected to rise considerably, offsetting some of the lower-skilled job losses.
For now, computers simply cannot perform the core, human-oriented tasks of clergy and hospice workers. Nor, for that matter, can they undertake the complex problem-solving done by CEOs, civil engineers, and public defenders.
Far more people will find their jobs changed rather than lost because of automation
McKinsey estimates that between 75 million and 375 million people globally will need to switch occupations by 2030. A far greater number will need to develop new skills in order to adapt. More than a third of the tasks performed in over half of current jobs could be automated with today’s technology, which means most workers will need to adjust soon either by learning to work with robots and technology or retraining for new jobs.
Technology will also exacerbate inequality along geographic lines. Larger cities tend to have a workforce with higher education and on a global scale, cities are where technical talent will converge.
Preparing for automation requires a long term vision
Which begins with education.
Rethinking educational systems and curriculums to ensure today’s students gain the skills that will equip them for a rapidly changing labor market is thus essential. Some places have already begun: The Canadian province of Ontario is training its young people in critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. Even China is making a push to incorporate creativity into its notoriously rote curriculum.
The role of government is key.
Telling someone to change their careers, retrain and go back to school is a lot to ask.
Countries that have developed social safety nets will be able to respond to the threat of automation. In Sweden, job security councils, jointly managed by the private sector, retrain workers who have been made redundant by automation.
Jobs that robots won’t be able to take any time soon are those that involve creators, analyzers, problem solvers, collaborators, and lifelong learners who are able to acquire new skills as old ones quickly become obsolete. Surprisingly, those with a liberal arts degree will find themselves rich with these abilities.
Working with robots doesn’t mean that you have a technical background. Robots are meant to complement our workforce and society.