The pace of technological change today is being called the “fourth industrial revolution.” New solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning are enabling machines to handle processes that once required human decision-making. Just as mechanical muscle lowered the demand for physical labour in the first industrial revolution, today cutting-edge technology is reducing the demand for human intervention.
The “migration” of tasks from humans to software and machines has been evident for quite some time. From ATMs to automated check-in at airports, technology has been replacing humans across multiple, relatively simple and repetitive tasks. Today, this transformation is allowing much more complex and nuanced tasks to move from human speed to machine speed, and taking place across industries that, historically, have remained largely untouched by machine intervention.
Most recently, we are seeing AI and cognitive systems used in legal discovery, insurance applications, underwriting and claims processing, and the delivery of financial investment advice. In healthcare, telemedicine can allow diagnosis and monitoring without the need to physically see a clinician, and even enable a surgeon to operate from another hospital or country. And while human involvement is not entirely removed, it is clear that some jobs that we have long understood as “human” are being displaced by technology.
The automation option
New opportunities for automation will continue to appear, as we see more and more mechanization, automation, AI, and robotics move in to replace human workers. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As technology develops to enable a whole raft of “traditional” roles to be replaced, new jobs will be created in the transition. Jobs that play to the heart of what make us human—creativity, innovation and strategic thought.
A key benefit of digital transformation is that it releases humans from the confines of mundane work and opens up more opportunity for people to spend time thinking—to conceive of technology that can add more value to everyday life. The time gained through automation can be used to innovate, germinate ideas, and conceive new processes fueled by the kind of thinking that only happens when our minds have time to wander.
The beginning of a sweeping societal change?
The World Economic Forum, as well as economists, analysts, and labour organizations predict a wave of job losses coming from the surge in AI, robotics, and other technologies. Though timing is not certain, one projection says we could expect a net loss of 7.1 million jobs over the next five years in 15 leading countries—the countries that make up approximately 65 percent of the world’s total workforce. Two million of the jobs lost will be offset by the creation of new positions. These will be the roles that support and foster the new wave of innovation beyond what we see as credible or possible today.
The endurance of creative and leadership roles
As digital technologies take hold, there will be a greater need for individuals who can build, develop and make sense of these changes. Developers, programmers, scientists, and technologists will—more than ever—be required to drive forward the accelerating pace of change. This disruption requires deep, creative thinking by economists, lawyers, and policy makers who can interpret how governance, intellectual property, and society at large will have to adapt.
Going forward, there will be more roles for people who are creative, those who have really honed their ability to think and consider a complete landscape of facts to come up with the right path. Today’s biggest ideas are not just the result of organizing data or understanding a spreadsheet; it’s the culmination of someone’s life experience: what they hear, what they read, who they converse with, and how they process that information within their very human brain to come up with the next big thing.
While algorithms may automate decision-making, it won’t be easy to replace leaders who can navigate fast-paced, intense change.
At the end of the day, you may wonder if a machine could do your job. And the answer is that it could probably do some of it. And that’s okay, because automation will free us up to do more of the thinking required to come up with what’s next, perhaps with the help of a new robot friend or two.