We are living in a time of upheaval, with automation and artificial intelligence likely to change society in ways possibly more substantial than the industrial revolution. This will mean challenges as technology changes how we work and play, but if we act carefully and embrace these technologies, we could reap the benefits for generations. Indeed, as economist and former adviser to the Australian government, Andrew Charlton, argues “automation doesn’t have to be an economic risk…it could be one of the largest economic opportunities”.
The manufacturing sector has already seen jobs go to automation, and that trend is only going to continue in other areas such as transportation, with driverless cars and driverless trucks nearly ready for the mainstream. However, it is not just bluee collar jobs that will be lost to automation, with computers ready to replace many white collar jobs as well.
Algorithms already perform much of the trading on the financial markets today, with flash trading firms competing to knock nanoseconds off their response times – buying and selling at speeds at a level where humans could never compete. Reporting on the markets too has seen automation taking jobs from journalists, with agencies such as the Associated Press and Thomson Reuters already using bots to write financial news.
In the legal world, chatbots are being employed by firms to help automatically generate contracts on-the-fly, which once would have taken days of works and thousands in legal fees. Even more advanced is Ross, a robotic lawyer built on top of IBM’s advanced AI platform Watson, that understands real questions and can perform various legal research and analysis tasks.
IBM’s Watson is already delivering healthcare improvements as well, providing doctors with more research and analysis at their fingertips than ever before, and helping to improve early diagnostic rates.
It is already clear that no sector will be safe from workers being replaced by technology, even if most people only believe it is other people’s jobs that will go. It is therefore paramount that lawmakers and business owners start to decide how best to embrace this future and distribute both the short-term pain and long-term gains for the benefit of everyone.
If we don’t start to plan for the automated future soon, it could go in a very different direction and leave millions out-of-work and governments struggling to cope. But if we get this right, it could mean better jobs for all, an economy that continues to grow, and the technological future promise in the 1950s where people could spend more time away from work and with our friends and family. As Andrew Charlton says:
“The benefits of automation will be erased if we don’t ensure that the gains are widely distributed. That means doing much more to help affected workers to re-skill and transition, and it means a robust framework involving employers, unions and government to ensure that the benefits of automation are widely shared.”
Photograph by Rog01