Will automation lead to mass unemployment?

2017-09-23 00:00:00
4 min read

In a popular study published by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, it was stated that 47% of U.S jobs will be automated within the next two decades.

With Wendy’s plans to have automated kiosks over at its stores, Foxconn replacing its workers with Foxbots, Amazon planning to robotize it's brick and mortar stores, and Adidas’ robotic shoemakers producing running shoes, other companies are likely to follow suit. Naturally, this has sent a wave of unrest across all sectors and there is an increased fear of losing jobs.

But the research arm of McKinsey & Company has another story to tell. It concludes that the near-term impact of automation will be to redefine jobs rather than to eliminate them. The fear of automation should instead be seen as an opportunity for augmentation. Moreover, there is still a long way to go before we get to Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI), which isn’t something to be intimidated by either.

Let’s travel back in time and recollect how bank tellers felt apprehensive about the then newly launched ATMs. The number of bank tellers did fall from 20 per branch in 1988 to 13 per branch in 2004, greatly reducing the cost of running a branch. This allowed banks to open more branches in response to customer demand. The number of branches rose by 43%, thus employing more people whose work now was focused on sales and customer service rather than routine activities.

The automation of shopping through e-commerce along with an accurate recommendation system in place encourages people to buy more and has increased overall employment in retailing.

Robot-Journalism is enabling human journalists to concentrate on investigative journalism and write smarter pieces that involve extensive research and information gathering by generating fact-based, personalized stories from structured data at a faster rate and a lower cost. Robot-Journalists share the workload with humans, instead of stealing it thus favoring the firm’s growth and success.

The State Bank of India has automated passbook printing, thus allowing their staff to attach more weightage to tasks like loan processing and currency conversion.

The same pattern can be observed across all industries. Also, jobs that seemed far-fetched a few years back-data analysts, information architects, user interaction specialists-have now sprung up thanks to technological advancement.

Indian business news and online trading website moneycontrol.com, which hosts real-time financial data of various companies, relies on vPhrase’s augmented analytics tool Phrazor to derive insights from data and publish it as news stories. Using Natural Language Generation - an advanced AI technology to produce easy-to-understand narratives, readers can easily make sense of tables and charts that once came across as an indecipherable matrix of numbers and finance jargon.

Although automation has taken over some blue-collar jobs in the past, the current scenario shows that there has been an increase in demand for specialists in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. The white-collar jobs will likely be upgraded in a way that would require a better skill-set and roles will be redefined, but they certainly won’t vanish – also there might be several new jobs in the offing.

Automation shouldn’t be perceived as a human versus machine war. We should rather embrace this change and gallop together towards a better future.

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