It is true, machines will replace people in many roles. But they’ll create even more. The latest report from the World Economic Forum entitled “The Future of Jobs 2018” contradicts previous catastrophic predictions regarding the relationship between new technologies and human labour. It is estimated that by 2022, artificial intelligence and robots will create 133 million new jobs despite displacing 75 million. This will result in a net gain of 58 million more jobs.
According to the report, new jobs will emerge, while others will disappear in part or altogether. Coinciding with the advent of artificial intelligence, the roles that will be gradually replaced will be from the service sector and advanced tertiary sector, starting with medical and clinical professions. On the other hand, when it comes to robots, new jobs will be created in healthcare and social sectors. In any event, researchers claim that “the skills required in both new and old job roles will change in most sectors, and these will transform “how” and “where” people work”.
According to the report, the main factors driving this change from now until 2022 include mobile internet, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and cloud technology. As a matter of fact, 85% of companies intend on accelerating adoption of these technologies in work organisation. However, with regard to the adoption of humanoid robots (i.e. intelligent machines replacing human labour), we have to make a distinction based on sector, as companies planning on investing in this vary from 23 to 37%. Companies offering financial services lead the way in terms of sectors planning on investing in forms of artificial intelligence able to replace a significant number of traditional industry roles.
In 2018, an average of 71% of labour hours are performed by humans, compared to 29% by machines. By 2022, these will be 58 and 42% respectively.
However, this will not just be a question of quantitative change; the very idea of work as we know it today is changing. Around 50% of companies predict that automation will lead to a reduction in the number of people working full time by 2022. However, 38% anticipate that their employees will take up productivity-enhancing roles, and 25% believe that new professional roles will be created within their companies. Yet the most interesting prediction is that employers are expecting to expand their workforce by employing flexible workers who will deal with specific tasks and work remotely without an actual physical office.
If this is the case, workers and machines will interact in new ways altogether. In 2018, on average, 71% of labour hours were carried out by humans and 29% by machines. By 2022, these will be 58 and 42% respectively. Today, in terms of labour hours, no work tasks are predominantly performed by machines and algorithms, yet this will change by 2022 as automation for certain tasks will cover up to 57% of total labour hours.
Despite this, the report reiterates that we are not heading towards a human labour crisis. While certain roles are being lost, estimates regarding the creation of new jobs and tasks are actually positive. By 2022, in emerging professions, employment share is set to increase from 16 to 27%, while in traditional roles, it will decrease from 31 to 21%. In absolute terms, this means a loss of 75 million roles, offset by the creation of 133 million new occupations adapted to our new relationship with machines and algorithms (these estimates were made by the researchers who created the report).
According to the report, these estimates “are useful in highlighting the types of adaptation strategies that must be put in place to facilitate the transition of the workforce to the new world of work”. According to WEF researchers, these predictions “represent two parallel and interconnected fronts of change in workforce transformations: 1) large-scale decline in some roles as tasks within these roles become automated or redundant, and 2) large-scale growth in new products and services—and associated new tasks and jobs—generated by the adoption of new technologies and other socio-economic developments such as the rise of middle classes in emerging economies and demographic shifts”.
Among new positions required, a number of roles are linked to new technologies. It is predicted, however, that demand for roles that leverage distinctively “human” skills will also increase.
Among new positions required, a number of roles are linked to the advent or strengthening of technologies. These include: AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, Process Automation Experts, Information Security Analysts, User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction Designers, Robotics Engineers and Blockchain Specialists, as well as Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and E-commerce and Social Media Specialists. It is predicted, however, that demand for roles that leverage distinctively “human” skills will also increase. These include: Customer Service Workers, Sales and Marketing Professionals, and Workplace Organisation Specialists.
The report outlines a “reskilling imperative” (i.e. training people to carry out new skills). The report states that “ by 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling (i.e. re-qualifying, training, and learning new skills when dealing with new technologies), while, at the same time, human skills such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience, flexibility and the ability to negotiate will become even more important.
The report concludes that: “These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization”. It is not up to machines to make decisions about our work; it is up to us as human beings to manage their arrival in factories and offices.