The Robots Are Here
From chatbot customer service apps to fully automated factory production lines to algorithmic news-writing software, technology is already edging out human capital in a variety of ways. That trend appears likely to accelerate as computers grow more powerful. A report from Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and the University of Oxford estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs and 57 percent of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development jobs are at risk from automation. And if you think that’s frightening, consider China, where 77 percent of jobs could be replaced by machines.
And They Are Coming for Knowledge Jobs Too
The rise of big data and sophisticated analytics puts even high-end, intellectually demanding jobs at risk. Already developers are building AI tools that diagnose illness, manage hedge funds, and pilot fighter jets. But even so, the main impact is likely to fall on lower-skill, lower-paid employees. White House economists recently projected that there was an 83 percent chance that U.S. jobs paid $20 or less could be eliminated by AI and automation, as compared with just 31 percent for jobs that pay up to $40 per hour and 4 percent for those that pay $40 per hour and up.
But Creatives Are Secure … for Now
Jobs that require uniquely human skills — like creativity — will be the last to go. A new study by Nesta and the University of Oxford finds that 21 percent of U.S. jobs require a high degree of creativity, and that 86 percent of these workers (who include artists, designers, coders, architects, and IT professionals) are at little or no risk of being replaced by machines.
Automation Creates Jobs Too
Also remember that automation and AI technologies create jobs, as well as destroy them. “The Future of Jobs,” a World Economic Forum Report, estimates that 7.1 million jobs, mostly in white-collar office functions, will disappear because of automation, while around 2 million, concentrated in computer sciences, math, architecture, and engineering will be gained, but that’s still a net loss of about 5 million jobs.
The Fallout From Automation
Automating jobs can clearly save corporations money, but what’s the ultimate cost? Rampant unemployment could easily trigger civil unrest. Falling incomes will put a further damper on consumer demand. Income inequality may widen, putting pressure on governments to develop costly new social benefits programs like universal health care and basic income for populations pushed out of the workforce. All of these potential changes could affect the business environment as much or more than lower human resources costs.
Is It Right for Your Company?
Companies can prepare for the AI revolution by carefully evaluating their workforces. Routine, low-skill jobs in office administration and manufacturing may be good candidates for automation. Higher skill jobs that require creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence may not. Valued employees in vulnerable jobs may be retrained for higher skill positions.
Remember AI is never an end in itself. Most applications still require extensive, skilled guidance by human beings to function correctly. By thinking strategically about what AI technology can accomplish for your company, as well as what will still have to be done by humans, you can get your workforce ready for a new automated future.