It’s a big question that often comes up when people start to think about the future of jobs, artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning.
‘Will robots take my job?’
Ever since early humans decided that bashing two rocks together in a particular way might create a useful handaxe, humans have been looking for ways to increase their efficiency by making day-to-day tasks faster, quicker and easier.
The most recent technological advancement to shape the workforce is artificial intelligence.
When you ask “will robots take my job?”, you're probably picturing a dystopian future where cyborgs sit at desks that were built for humans. But that’s not what the future of work will look like.
Technology has already taken over 90% of the jobs that humans used to do.
Before the first industrial revolution, the vast majority of people were employed in agriculture. Nowadays, only around 2% of people work in agriculture.
This was a huge shift in the way that we used technology to automate previously manual tasks, but it didn’t result in continuous mass unemployment.
The nature of the jobs on offer changed dramatically, and people adapted by moving to the cities to work in factories.
Another huge shift was the digital revolution, as the computer, cell phone and internet were created and many members of the workforce took up residence in offices and behind desks. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, workers such as software developers, accountants and insurance sales agents (all of whom rely heavily on computer technology to do their jobs) spend up to 90% of their workday sitting behind a desk.
At this moment in time, we’re on the cusp of another industrial revolution, as artificial intelligence, robotics, self-driving cars, 3-D printing and other game-changing technologies become mainstream.
The workforce will have to adapt once more to keep up with the rate of technological change, but this is nothing new - it’s something we’ve been doing for the past few hundred years.
What is a robot and how are they used in the workplace?
A robot is a machine that resembles a human and does routine, mechanical tasks on command.
Robots started to take people’s jobs back in the 1970’s when we started to use robots in car manufacturing factories as a way of replacing the manual labour that was required at the time.
Nowadays, we can find robots in many workplaces, carrying out repetitive physical tasks that humans were previously required to do, such as the 100,000+ robots that Amazon uses in its warehouse to pack and sort inventory.
This form of rudimentary automation is one way that the current workforce is being shaped by current technology, but automation is becoming more advanced every day as the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning develop. This is where the greatest job opportunities lie.
How is artificial intelligence being used in the workplace?
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being widely adopted by a variety of different businesses, professions and organisations in order to speed up previously manual processes, create personalised user experiences and provide predictive analytics.
But AI can't be adopted in the workplace without human input.
Which jobs are most at risk from automation?
Jobs which involve a heavy amount of personal data analysis are very likely to be replaced by software that can scan through unstructured text, images and even speech to come to conclusions much faster than a human can.
Likewise, factory workers and farmers will be replaced by machines as the technology continues to develop and adapt to our increasingly consumer-centric society, especially in developing countries such as India and regions such as South America, but also Japan, China and the United States.
In western countries, bank tellers, inventory and stock managers, fast-food workers, financial analysts and construction workers are all at at high risk of being replaced by machines that can complete tasks faster, more efficiently and with an infinitesimally smaller margin for error than the humans who currently perform those jobs.
Which jobs are least at risk?
Interestingly, the jobs that are safest from the threat of automation are often ones which rely closely on interpersonal skills.
AI won't be able to replace specialist counsellors, assist with drug addiction or help victims of domestic abuse, so therapists, counsellors and social workers can all relax in the knowledge that their jobs are safe.
Likewise, several professions will actually benefit hugely from the rise of automation, such as marketers, startup founders, business developers, account managers, digital consultants, HR managers and more.
If a large part of your day is currently being spent doing simple but boring tasks that could be easily automated, then embracing automation will free up more time that you can spend on the aspects of your role that have a real impact.
Will some jobs disappear completely?
The vast majority of jobs will be impacted by the rise of artificial intelligence, to some extent. Some jobs may even disappear completely - eventually there will be no human-driven taxis, for example - but that’s a long way off.
AI is starting to affect people’s day-to-day working lives right now.
In the majority of cases, artificial intelligence will not eliminate your job. Instead it will help to reduce the amount of boring, repetitive and mundane tasks that you have to complete on a daily basis, therefore freeing up humans to spend more time on higher-level, more intellectually stimulating challenges.
But these opportunities will only arise if people are willing to embrace change and learn how to work alongside new and emerging technologies within the workplace.
What does the future workforce look like?
“They say that AI and robots won’t take our jobs, but rather augment them by doing the things we humans don’t do so well.” - Tom Davenport in Forbes.
This is the future of work: Humans and machines working together to create exciting and interesting roles that are assisted by AI and machine learning, rather than being in competition with these rapidly developing technologies.
However, you’re going to have to move with the times, and move fast if you want to stay ahead of the curve. You need to be prepared to take on new tasks and adapt your role to incorporate and embrace the next wave of technological advancements.