It’s been predicted that 1 in 2 jobs will be replaced by a machine or by software; and we can already see that’s started: take a look at Amazon, who use more than 20,000 robots in their warehouses and who are looking at starting to use drones for deliveries.
AI is currently being used in some sectors such as car manufacturer (self-driving cars), hospitality (robotic line cooks replacing chefs) and healthcare (with AI being used to diagnose some common diseases). In other words, any job that includes a level of repetition is a candidate for replacement by a machine.
So, does this mean most of us are at risk of losing our jobs?
Let’s take a quick look at our history: in the early 1930‘s machines started taking over farmers’ jobs. In construction, the concrete mixer took jobs away from labourers mixing cement manually. But here’s an interesting thing, as ‘robots’ were taking over, the overall number of the workforce remained constant, despite a few million factory workers and farmers being pushed out of their jobs. Although those specific roles have disappeared, the total amount of work that needs doing has remained constant. Let’s take the invention of the car, although this took away the job of the horse carriage driver, it created a new job opportunity for a car mechanic. Same number of people, same number of jobs, just different skills needed.
On the whole we can predict the nature of the jobs that might no longer be performed within the next 10-20 years, however it’s more difficult to visualise the types of new jobs and opportunities that will be created. When companies can do more with less, they can expand to different countries, hire new people and lower prices to compete. In turn, this means that consumers, can buy more.
One thing to note though, while AI is doing great things in manufacturing, it’s adoption hasn’t been as rapid in the service industry. That’s why data analytics is going to become huge; some visionary companies are employing more people, to look at the data that’s being collected by those machines installed in their companies – to analyse customer behaviour and to improve customer experience.
So yes, automation will displace or replace some workers, but if history is anything to go by, I doubt it will impact the total number of jobs in the economy.