We’ve seen it in the Industrial Revolution, where machines replaced countless jobs almost overnight. The socio-economic effects of that transformation have been well documented.
Today, many believe we are facing the same tidal wave of change. The major difference now is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the capability to replace the roles of knowledge workers and highly qualified professionals – in addition to labour-intensive jobs.
For example, retail store managers might be tempted to have a team of 10 robots performing the jobs of 40 employees.
The benefits of using robots instead of people are numerous and speak for themselves: they wouldn’t require remuneration, medical aid, pension fund contributions, leave, lunch breaks, uniforms, a canteen, change rooms or even toilets. Moreover, they can work at full production, 24/7.
They are also, arguably, drama free. Robots are unlikely to steal, make mistakes, join a union, go on strike, harass fellow employees, require disciplinary action, or suffer debilitating episodes of low morale.
Importantly, they possess no racial or gender classification, thus simplifying a company’s transformation bureaucracy.
Most appealing though, is that robots cannot be injured or killed like their human counterparts, and won’t sue their employer if they happen to suffer a mechanical failure!
Indeed, from a corporate perspective, it would make good business sense for human staff to be kept to a minimum, while robots carry out all the menial tasks previously undertaken by people.
Automation is here
Although many industries are experiencing a steady rise in the technological displacement of the human workforce, people underestimate just how rapidly this phenomenon is set to spend the job market over the next few decades.
A 2017 report predicted that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation.
The study, produced by the McKinsey Global Institute, argues that advances in AI and robotics will have a major effect on everyday working lives, comparable to the shift away from agricultural societies during the Industrial Revolution.
The report notes “in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers.” In the US alone, between 39 and 73 million jobs stand to be automated — making up around a third of the total workforce.
Industries in Flux
Mechanisation in the mining industry has already replaced millions of mining jobs, and this process will not abate until such time as machines are doing 100% of the work – particularly in hazardous environments. The sad reality is, there will be fewer and fewer jobs available in large mining operations as robots continue to take over.
Autonomous vehicles, trains and aircraft are set to disrupt every sphere of the global transport and logistics industry. Although there are still hurdles that must be overcome before autonomous transport is rolled out en masse, make no mistake, it is expanding and will become the norm way sooner than we think.
Combat drones have also proven themselves to be a huge asset in aerial warfare. It is highly likely that these unmanned drones will supersede their manned counterparts, removing additional military personnel from the coalface of war.
And then there’s the escort industry, which is suddenly dealing with an unprecedented competitor – the sex robot. These robots are programmed to provide ‘sex on demand’ with minimal risk of acquiring an STD, zero risk of unplanned pregnancy, and total confidentiality.
Just how popular these sex robots will become is anyone’s guess, but all indications are that the industry is set to boom as the technology evolves.
Progress versus Protection
With many African countries beleaguered by ongoing labour unrest, Governments face the herculean task of providing and protecting jobs for the people. Yet most Governments’ strategies continue to complement their various nations’ drive for innovation.
In the wake of these, national policies continue to explore innovative ways of using technology effectively to increase efficiency as well as fight corruption, bureaucracy among others by reducing the human interface.
If the trend continues, one can only wonder if the over reliance on technology is doing more harm than good. That said, if machines and technologies are proving to be more efficient and relatively cost effective, no accusing fingers can really be pointed.
The onus is therefore conferred on you as an individual to rethink and ensure your value continue to outweigh that of the machines. It is only by so doing that you can avoid the inevitability of the ‘Robots’ who are here for our jobs.
Major Contributions from: Brian Timperley, Co-Founder & MD of Turrito Networks and MD of Dial a Nerd
Edited by Tech Voice Africa News Desk