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From Siri and Cortana to self-service supermarket checkouts, driverless cars and Uber, the evidence of increasing automation in our everyday lives is ever more apparent. As artificial intelligence continues to push the boundaries of what is achievable, we are at once in awe of what technology can achieve and at the same time suspicious of its potential impact upon our livelihoods and job security. Even the usually dependable Siri doesn’t seem to have the answer:
‘Siri, are robots going to take over our jobs?’ I ask.
‘That’s an interesting question’, comes the response.
One recent study found that an eye watering 35% of the British workforce were now in roles that could be considered at a high risk of potential automation. In addition, further research undertaken in the US over the past two decades, concluded that the addition of each robot into manufacturing industries resulted in the loss, on average of 6.2 human jobs.
In fact with the future outlook for work appearing to be so bleak, renowned visionary and philanthropist Bill Gates even went as far as to suggest that increasing automation should bring with it a ‘Robot Tax’. In essence this would be a means of compensating for a shortfall in the government’s tax coffers from a reduction in the number of tax paying workers in the job market. It would also be a means of minimising the gap between the robot haves and have nots, where savings in wages would mean increased organisational profits. But even this comes with its difficulties, not least some major existential questions; what actually counts as a robot anyway?
But is it really all bad? To some, these rapid technological advancements are a double edged sword, with many commentators quick to argue that technology has in reality created as many jobs as it has destroyed. Likewise advances in the technology behind production has cut the prices in real terms of many everyday essentials; everything from food to electronic appliances, even cars.
IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer most famous for its stellar performances on US TV quiz show ‘Jeopardy’, is an example of the powerful impact which robotics and AI can bring to a discipline as complex as modern medicine; once thought of as untouchable by automation. With its ability to pull together over half a million individual pieces of medical evidence and with access to an internal database of around two million pages sourced from a whole host of different medical journals, it is thought it could revolutionise modern healthcare. Study proved Watson’s diagnostic accuracy rate for lung cancer to be 90%, compared to an average diagnostic accuracy rate of 50% amongst human physicians. By improving the link between symptoms and a diagnosis, Watson also has the ability to search through 1.5 million patient records to learn from previous diagnoses. This amount of information is more than any human could learn in a lifetime.
However the feeling persists that we are still really only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of automation and that it no longer discriminates by job type. “(Automation is) blind to the colour of your collar”, says Jerry Kaplan, computer scientist, author, futurist, and pioneer of technology used to develop the first smartphone and tablet.
Ultimately however, the back and forth only serves to cloud the larger picture which is that change is inevitable and that organisations and their employees need to do their best to prepare for it accordingly.
With workforce transformation an apparently ongoing challenge as roles change and new skills are required, it is more important than ever that those who are affected by redundancy as a consequence of these changes, are supported with the necessary guidance and resources to help them transition more quickly and effectively to a new role. With a growing recognition that providing support of this kind is of as much importance to the individual as it is to the organisation in terms of brand reputation management, the short term impact of this uncertainty needn’t be so significant.
Renovo are the UK’s fastest growing specialist provider of pioneering career transition solutions. If you are an employer concerned about the effects of automation and workforce change, then we can help. Contact a member of the Renovo team on 0800 612 2011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.