Automation and the rise of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are making everyone paranoid -- paranoid about job losses: The fact that a machine may soon do your job, make you redundant – and paranoid about what the future of work may look like.
Will it just be a bunch of robots manufacturing everything, end to end, as well as rendering services in clinics, restaurants and shopping malls? Or will humans continue to be a significant factor in most of these activities?
Of course, it’s hard to predict exactly what the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring. This is especially true given the rate of innovations and inventions today (as I type this, probably hundreds or thousands of apps are going live). However, we can be sure of the role human beings will play in causing and manoeuvring these massive tides of change.
Decades ago, people used to wash their clothes with hands. This was a professional occupation for many. With washing machines going mainstream, many such jobs were wiped out. Something similar could happen to drivers, considering that the universalisation of driverless cars is very near. Since time immemorial, new technologies have rendered many occupations, and the old way of doing things, defunct. But this has rarely ever taken place without the simultaneous creation of new/alternative job opportunities. The World Economic Forum says that 65% of children entering school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist. As more complex technologies emerge, more human intelligence will be required to manage these. This is what is giving birth to numerous new jobs.
For example, the demand for data analysts — a new occupation — increased almost 90% by the end of 2014, within a year. Many big e-commerce players, credit firms, airlines, hospitality, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) and retail industries already use analytics in a major way. In India, the analytics and business intelligence industry is around $27 billion and has grown 22% annually only in the last three to four years. Global digital advertising expenditure is currently around $230 billion and expected to grow to more than $335 billion in the future. These industries alone are powering the majority of new-age employment. As the importance of these functions grows for businesses, employers will demand more and more such skills.
So if the picture isn’t all that bad, why are we all under this large cloud of lay-off gloom? Primarily because we have not been sharp enough to gauge which skills are being demanded the most in market. One quick look around would reveal that things are changing. If you had kept one eye on these trends, you would have known the areas requiring skilled labour and the areas on their way to extinction.
While it is true that some jobs are on their way out – there is a science to this. When we speak of manual work being supplanted by technology, we must keep in mind that routine jobs are most susceptible to automation. And while non-cognitive and routine work is decreasing, knowledge-oriented work is increasing. The demand for labour adept at managing such technology is on the rise – a trend that is likely to intensify as our processes become more technologically complex and disruptive.
Humans are discovering newer ways of enhancing their productivity and efficiency. Most of the pattern-driven work is slowly getting automated. But this doesn’t mean humans will be useless. They will be the ones who will need to identify problems and ask the right questions.
It has been predicted that fully autonomous car technology will arrive within two years, full-fledged use of drones is being witnessed already, data-driven leadership has become inevitable for companies that want to succeed in a competitive world and understand their consumer best -- even robots are becoming a common feature. Tools like digital curation and preservation, data mining or Big Data analytics are already beginning to shape professional jobs.
Most industries are undergoing a digital transformation, and skills relating to key technologies like mobility, cloud computing, business intelligence, machine learning, nanotechnology, and 3D printing, are gaining relevance and, in some cases, becoming indispensable to day-to-day operations. Whether it’s making prosthetics or whole houses with 3D printing, or it’s artificial intelligence behind voice assistant Siri on your iPhone, these technologies are already impacting our lives.
For us to ride the wave, instead of getting swept by it, we must be cognisant of the lifespan of companies, technologies and whole industries, in order to upskill ourselves accordingly – so we can own the jobs of tomorrow as we did the jobs of yesterday.
Mayank Kumar is co-founder and chief executive of UpGrad, an online education company that offers programmes for working professionals. Apoorva Shankar is head of content marketing and UpGrad Online Scholarship at UpGrad. Views are personal.