I have never been a huge movie fan but just like any boy, I was utterly enchanted by science fiction movies in my childhood! The seemingly impossible and wildly futuristic world that was depicted in these movies seemed to captivate the wildest of imaginations between my ears and indeed, I was deeply fascinated by them. One of my personal favorites was the 2004 sci-fi action film; I, Robot based on a novel with a similar name by the Russian American novelist Isaac Asimov. Set in the year 2035, the plot shows a technologically advanced future that is heavily reliant on technology; Robots work as personal assistants, rescue workers and police and most astounding, cars can drive themselves; all governed by Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Later on in the movie, these robots become self-aware and attempt to turn against humanity (they did not succeed).
Flash-forward, roughly fifteen years later, what I saw in the movie is unfolding right before my eyes only that this time robots aren’t trying to take over the world; they are taking over our Jobs. Today self-driving cars, autonomous robots and artificial intelligence are no longer just utopian concepts from sci-fi movies; they are now real, up and working! While this might be good news for humanity at least for now, a number of labor economists have expressed concerns about the possibility of these technologies creating a jobless future for humans; but how profound are their claims?
Nearly one in every five jobs will be lost to automation by 2030 according to a report by the Mckinsey Global Institute; that’s approximately 800 million jobs and what’s worse is that nearly all kinds of professions will be affected. Although technological unemployment has largely been linked to blue collar and low skill jobs in the past, Machines are getting smarter every day and equipped with the ability to learn through artificial intelligence they are slowly outsmarting humans in all kinds of fields from construction to law and even medicine. For any rational employer with a profit maximizing motive, machines are a darling; they don’t get tired, they don’t make mistakes and neither do they go on strike. They are endowed with an irresistible charm of efficiency and productivity which makes them the ultimate worker of choice unlike their mostly inefficient counterparts; human labor. In short, humans are no match to the prowess and energy of a machine and as the scope of capabilities for machines widens there is a growing risk of entire professions being totally wiped out; for example in the not so distant future there may be no such thing as “Cashier”, “driver” or “bank teller”.
But hey, “not so fast!” says Dr. Carl Frey, one of Oxford University’s leading economists on the future of work in an interview on ‘BBC click’ (my favorite tech show). In the show he suggests that technology may not necessary wipe out jobs for humans but rather change the nature and scope of work humans are supposed to do. He further points out that in many cases, technology may create entirely new professions and in that case new Jobs; For example the coming of computers rendered typists obsolete but in the process created more jobs for software engineers and IT specialists. However, looming questions of what the ‘typists’ of the future will become and the ability of humans to adapt to a sudden change in profession still linger around his arguments.
Today’s tech revolution is going to be the biggest since the industrial revolution and without doubt, just like the industrial revolution did, it is going to change how live and work forever. However, unlike the industrial revolution where machines were designed to be used by humans, this revolution is different; Machines are being designed to be autonomous (work on their own) and that should scare you. It may not be certain how technology will affect our jobs in the future but what’s for sure is that it’s going to be vicious, ugly and radical and we will have to prepare for it.