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CommonTime Enterprise Mobility Blog

Beyond Automation: Employment in an Intelligent World

A report by professional services firm PwC predicts that by 2030, up to 30% of current jobs in the UK could be taken over by artificial intelligence. However despite the claim, PwC Chief Economist John Hawksworth suggests that “By boosting productivity - a key UK weakness over the past decade - and so generating wealth, advances in robotics and AI should also create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as this extra wealth is spent or invested.

So, while business may become increasingly automated - there is comfort in the knowledge that artificial intelligence and automation will not replace a human workforce, but rather open new opportunities in a variety of industries.

But what exactly will this brave new world look like? Research from consulting firm McKinsey suggests which tasks may be affected most. Notably, the top three activities are: predictable physical work (81%), data processing (69%) and data collection (64%). After this, there is a sharp drop off to unpredictable physical work (26%).

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Analysis of Automation Potential  by Employment Type  (http://bit.ly/McKDigiAuto)

The State of Process Automation & Machine Learning

It is not just manual labour that automated systems will be able to replicate - the value of advanced data collection and processing should not be underestimated. Already, machine learning experiments are showing significant of potential in healthcare - with early indications suggesting that predictive algorithms could be an effective way to diagnose health issues such as skin cancers.

This research comes at an interesting time, as the UK is affected by a national shortage of dermatologists. Therefore, there is a strong case for machine learning algorithms to be applied in clinical environments to support a struggling profession.

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"If applications are focused, AI can complement careers in which there is a shortage of staff."

But this research goes against the traditional discourse of business automation. Rather than replacing specialists, artificial intelligence is filling an existing shortage in the market to help cope with overwhelming demand. Further, Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation has stated that such technology will unlikely replace the need for dermatologists entirely - as it relies on self-reporting rather than a consultative approach.

The Role of Creatives, Strategists & Developers

So is this the start of what has been dubbed the ‘‘industrial revolution 4.0’? Perhaps. But more likely, we will begin to see employment which is augmented by machine learning and automation.

Already, this is the case in a rapidly expanding number of industries. O2, for example, committed in February to begin rolling out a cognitive learning based AI to handle customer service calls by the end of 2017. This system would not remove the need for customer service staff entirely, but be able to handle simple queries around bills and changes to mobile plans. Such a service would also have the capacity to triage calls, thus ensuring staff spend more time on complex issues where human input is required.

Further, the brave new world will lead to higher employment rates for creatives, strategists and developers. It is these roles which AI will not be able to fill - capable of learning but not of abstract thought.

As stated by Eric Brynojolfsson of the MIT Centre for Digital Business, “There is no economic law which says you will always create enough jobs or the balance will always be even. It's possible for a technology to dramatically favour one group and to hurt another group, and the net of that might be that you have fewer jobs.”

Finding Gainful Employment

If the AI revolution favours some lines of employment, but is a detriment to others - the question then becomes, what skills are required to remain gainfully employed over the next quarter century?

TheNextWeb suggests that a key component of preparing for employment in the age of AI & automation will be technical knowledge. There is already much debate on the way in which IT and technology is taught - a gap in the traditional education landscape currently filled by independent sources.

However, to truly integrate technical skills into modern society, the training that is currently provided by massively open online courses (MOOCs) must also be offered by traditional educational establishments. Further, employers have a responsibility to provide opportunities that upskills staff in technical abilities - such as Amazon’s Career Choice program.

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Share of Jobs by Skills: 1980-2012

Additionally, WeForum highlights that a number of manual jobs are already in decline. Those that are rising most in popularity are those that require a combination of math and social skills. While automation may encroach somewhat on purely mathematical career paths, it is unlikely that it will at any point be able to replicate the delicate balance of math and social skills many employees require today.

Imagining an Automated Society

One of the key reasons that automation is believed to have such drastic potential effects on the world is the assumption that society will not change alongside it. However, a number of leading futurists have already begun to imagine how government and economic institutions may change to accommodate an increasingly automated future.

Bill Gates, for example, has proposed that governments may wish to levy a ‘robot tax’ in which companies which utilise an automated workforce pay levies to the government rather than employee salaries. The funds from this tax could then be used to support those in careers which do not lend themselves to automation - such as social care or education.

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"A 'robot tax' could fund human-centric jobs while maintaining regulatory control of automation."

This model would also enable governments to decide which jobs require human input and which do not - as well as how automation is taxed. So it’s clear that this is by no means a concrete or finished vision. It does, however, demonstrate that the development of artificial intelligence, business and government are intrinsically linked.

To create an environment of gainful employment, innovation must be driven by businesses seeking efficiency. These innovations must be regulated in order to be adopted widely, and individuals must be trained in roles that require creative, strategic and managerial thought.

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Posted by Chris Martin

Chris is a digital marketer who strongly believes in the power of creating memorable customer experiences. He proactively drives digital strategy and content production at CommonTime.