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If you follow any mainstream media you’ll have seen many dire predictions about the impact of automation on jobs.

Some commentators have suggested over 5 million jobs will be lost because of autonomous vehicles alone!

And the conclusion of these reports is always bleak.

Mass unemployment. Social Unrest. Increases in mental health issues. A widening gap between rich and poor.

I disagree with these conclusions.

I believe that over the coming decades the future of work will become unimaginably better than what the majority of us experience today.

Here’s why.

The Prophecies of Doom

There can be no doubt that we will see massive shifts in the job market over the coming decades.

And the primary driver will be machine learning and robotics, either automating evermore complex human tasks or removing the need for the task in the first place.

For example, autonomous, self-driving vehicles will remove the need for human ‘drivers’.

And neural networks with advanced photographic deep learning algorithms will mean we no longer need dermatologists to identify cancerous moles.

Some respected scientists and researchers estimate that ~ 50% or more of today’s jobs will be disrupted by technology in the coming decades.

The purpose of this article though isn’t to simply list sets of jobs that are at risk of automation.

I’m sure enough examples spring to mind from what you’ve read elsewhere.

Instead, I want to propose a more positive counterargument. 

A more realistic, non-click-bait view, about what these changes mean for you, me and more importantly perhaps our children.

I believe the future is bright.

That isn’t to say that these changes won’t be deeply troubling for many people.

Sadly, history shows that whenever there is a disruptive event, there will always be casualties.

None the less I do believe that the overwhelming story of the future will be positive.

In this article, I explain why.


First Up, The Worst Jobs Will Go

I don’t know what you do for a career.  

I don’t need to know that, to conclude you wouldn’t want to be a shelf-stacker or long-distance lorry driver or waste sorter or telemarketer or slaughterhouse worker.

Even if you do one of these jobs, it’s unlikely you’d say you’ve found your life’s purpose.

No one wakes up dreaming of doing a job which reduces the probability of a long and fulfilled life.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of us end up doing precisely that.

We ‘work-to-earn-to-survive’, rather than finding those activities we enjoy.

So, using technology to eradicate the need for us to do dangerous, repetitive, demeaning jobs has to be a good thing.

The risk, of course, is that automating jobs, no matter how dangerous or degrading, will remove a critical opportunity for many people to earn any sort of income at all.

Read on to find out why this does not have to be the case.


Secondly, The Better Tasks Will Stay

When we say ‘jobs will go’, it would be more accurate to say that just the ‘repetitive’ components of jobs will be automated.

Reconsider for example, how the roles of drivers and dermatologists will likely change.

Trucking companies will still need people to resolve problems, manage customer relationships and oversee the pick-up/drop-off processes.

And dermatologists will be more in demand than ever as self-screening is democratised, increasing the number of cases that need medical interventions

By removing the dull, repetitive aspects of today’s jobs, technology increases the possibility that we can then focus on the more interesting aspects.

And interestingly in scenarios like this, we can expect increased demand for certain skills as new markets are opened up.
 

Thirdly – The Definition of Work Will Change

As new jobs are created and old ones fall by the wayside, governments are going to have to review the definition of work and consider the introduction of Universal Basic Income.

For example, today the term ‘work’ is restricted to transactional arrangements between two parties.

Typically the employer and employee.

But this is not the only type of productive labour that exists.

Consider the case of Fred.  

It’s 2020 and Fred is 47. He looks after his elderly mum, who had a stroke in 2018. He helps his children complete their homework, and takes on most of the domestic duties, as his wife works. He is an active member of the local gardening community and regularly supports fundraisers. He runs 4km on most days. He earns no income.

Today, Fred would be classified as unemployed and typecast as unemployable.

Yet, he is an incredibly productive member of society.

By running every day he significantly improves his health and longevity outlook, which in turn can save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in future medical costs.

And if he was to ’employ’ staff to cover the domestic duties, the children’s extra tuition and his mothers care, he would easily look to be spending over $100K per annum.

Universal Basic Income is going to have to be introduced to reallocate machine-generated-revenues to dislocated workers.

But the bigger opportunity is to look at ‘compensating’ people like Fred,  whose activities are clearly benefiting society as a whole.

The conventions we use to determine the ‘value of labour’, which were developed for the 20th century are going to have to be adapted to deal with the impacts of 4iR in the 21st.
 

Fourthly, For every job lost, many new ones will be created.

We are an amazing species for many reasons, but I’m continually fascinated about how we invent stuff from literally nothing.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will, without question, remove the need for humans to perform certain activities.

But it will equally create opportunities for us to invent new problems and develop new skills to solve them.

History shows we are incapable of simply sitting and doing nothing. 

So I can’t imagine a moment in time where we are not going to be imagining new problems and new solutions, which lead to more inventions which create fresh opportunities to be personally productive.

We cannot predict what these jobs will be, just as we couldn’t have explained in the 50’s that we’d need UX designers, data scientists and photovoltaic installers today.

We can, however, predict that there will be many new jobs and that many of these are going to come with high price tags, as demand outstrips supply.

Finally, We Can All Adapt

This isn’t intended to be a put-down in any way, shape or form, but you are probably pretty average.

Average intelligence. Average driving ability. Average looks.

Which is actually great news, because it means you don’t have to be a genius to succeed in life.

We each quite literally have a preprogrammed in-built ability to be just as good at doing things as anyone else.

So with a little grit and determination, there is nothing biologically stopping the vast majority of people becoming successful entrepreneurs, doctors or parents.

Unfortunately, despite similar biologies, access to opportunities is definitely not equal.

If you were the son or daughter of a rockstar lawyer, footballer, scientist or mother, then you are more likely to become a rockstar lawyer, footballer, scientist or parent yourself.

If on the other hand, you grew up poor, had limited family support and were unable to go to a decent school, your probability of succeeding is going to be radically reduced.

Which is why when technology does drive radical change in the work marketplace, we will have to level the ‘opportunity’ playing fields.I see no biological reason why a retrenched truck driver cannot learn python or C# or train to be an online health councillor.

And the democratisation of quality education through massive open online training platforms, such as Coursera and Udemy, take us another big step forward.

Prospects improve even more as ‘education-as-a-service’ goes virtual.

And as capabilities improve and the hardware prices continue to fall exponentially, expect more mentoring, coaching, networking and emotional support to become available online.

All of which quite literally means we are entering an age where anyone can learn anything for free.

Your View

Whether you agree or disagree, do share your views in the comments sections.

Technology is changing the possibilities for future generations.  It’s up to society to decide how it’s used.

Your opinions count.

Colin Iles

Colin Iles

Colin Iles is a founding director of Emergent Africa. He heads up the innovation and leadership practise. Whether advising, facilitating, coaching or managing programmes, Colin's goal is to inspire leaders to create purposeful organizations that outperform.

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