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Science and Technology

Will Automation and AI cause a job crisis?

It’s true that AI and Automation will wreak havoc among the workforce rending a large part of the population useless and without economic value. The term automation is used to designate certain new forms of mechanization of work which are progressively giving to automatic devices functions previously carried out by human beings. When people think about automation and work, they often imagine robots operating within a manufacturing environment. A key factor to understand, however, is that automation and robotics are two distinctly different things. Yes, crossovers exist between the two, but to appreciate the nuances of the technology, it’s a good idea to keep them separate in your mind.

Automation is the term used when describing a process or task performed by software or a machine, usually undertaken by a human. It can be mechanical or virtual; simple or complicated. Robotics, on the other hand, is a branch of engineering focused on designing and building robots. While robots may automate some tasks, in the main, they have little to do with automation outside of industrial settings. And even within manufacturing facilities, other types of machines are used which don’t come under the robotics banner.  

AI and automation have seen lots of advances in past few years yet they require a lot of human supervision and input to work in real applications. Although in the present time jobs can be automatable but less that 5% of those jobs can be fully automatable i.e. they will need a human assistance. The actual percentage of jobs that will be automated will be lower, because technology adoption lags behind technology development due to costs in implementation, maintenance, and overcoming cultural and regulatory hurdles.

According to the Oxford study, the jobs that are not automatable in the near future are ones with tasks that relate to the following:

  • perception and manipulation (e.g. dexterous manipulation of objects/tools),
  • creative intelligence (e.g. creative problem solving, the arts),
  • social intelligence (e.g. understanding others’ emotions, negotiation/persuasion, assisting and caring for others).

Jobs displaced by automation form only one part of the net employment equation. We should also look at jobs created by automation as well. Automation can create new jobs directly through the production, maintenance, and sales of its products and services. But, it creates even more jobs indirectly by improving the productivity of other industries. While PCs displaced jobs in bookkeeping and secretarial work, it created many new jobs that didn’t exist before, such as those in manufacturing high-tech components and those that use PCs, like IT support services, call centers, and e-commerce.

Meanwhile, industries like education and health care involve much more interpersonal work and application of deep expertise, competencies which current robots and software lack.