The Whole Story: The Future of Work is More Work
Headlines attract page-views but hardly ever give the full story. From scientists suddenly discovering an asteroid that could annihilate Earth next week to the latest weight loss trick, the most sensational copy often doesn’t provide an accurate representation of reality.
So, when I see articles with titles like “Rise of the Machines: The Future Has Lots of Robots, Few Jobs for Humans” from reputable websites such as Wired.com, or I hear the latest prediction from Elon Musk on the impending robot takeover of civilization, I reserve judgment or opinion until I actually have the whole story.
But many do not, and that is how ideas like the imminent job apocalypse will leave no person employed becomes wildly popular internet fodder.
Plenty of coverage has been given to the rise of artificial intelligence and robots taking over human jobs. But does the exponential advancements in technology really pose the risk to our humanity that many would have you believe?
Technology Will Impact the Future of Work
It would be naive to say technology won’t have an impact on employment. Technology is changing the type of skills needed and the pace at which we need them. But it won’t mean the end of jobs.
While the concern that automation will replace future jobs isn’t completely unfounded, it won’t lead to mass unemployment. Let’s face it: Technology has historically resulted in the “automation” of work. The printing press eliminated the need for people to hand scribe books. Steam power led to the mechanization of manufacturing, resulting in less reliance on human power. Now algorithms are digitizing repetitive tasks.
Technology Brings Opportunity
As was the case with earlier technological advancements, new jobs and job types will be created. Not many of us could have predicted the internet 50 years ago and all the jobs that it created (which is estimated to be 2.6 jobs for each lost to “technology related efficiencies,” according to McKinsey & Company). So while cars may now drive themselves and robots deliver pizzas, it’s really impossible to say what your kindergartener will do when he or she grows up, though it is almost certainly something that doesn’t yet exist.
Focusing only on technology’s substitutionary role fails to appreciate how it also can be complementary. The machines of the future will more likely augment jobs, rather than replace them entirely. While certain tasks may be automated, jobs themselves will simply change and evolve.
For example, parking enforcement is still a viable career of the future; it will just look much different than it did five years ago or even what it looks like today. As expensive hardware gives way to sophisticated and scalable software, the way we enforce parking is changing, as are the skills required for employment in the profession.
But Opportunity Knocks Only
for Certain Jobs
What is different about today’s technologies is that cognitive labor is on the automation block, not just manual labor. Today, the risk of job automation is not about whether a position is manual or white-collar, but whether the work is routine or not.
The trend in substituting machines and computers for human workers is most noticeably impacting our economy by eliminating middle-skilled work that is routine, either cognitively or physically. We see growth in high-skilled jobs that require problem-solving abilities, intuition and persuasion (and often more education) and in low-skilled jobs that involve nonroutine manual work (and little formal education).
It’s Not the End of Jobs;
It’s Only the Beginning
Technology lets us rethink the old ways of doing things. Consider for a minute how Uber and Lyft have transformed the urban transportation industry. While taxi companies around the world have protested against such ride-sharing services, it may have been more useful for those taxi companies to look in the rearview mirror and address the dissatisfaction of customers with their services.
By merely wringing our hands and blaming technology for employment challenges, we are missing a huge opportunity. So instead of crying that the end is near, the robot overlords are coming for your livelihood, let’s think big.
Technology not only will create new departments and jobs within companies, but also the need for entirely new companies, new businesses, and, of course, new jobs.