Technology is often viewed as a threat to jobs. But done right, it can liberate our time—and lead to new opportunitiesby Jason Stockwood / September 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
For the past five years, it’s been hard to move for surveys and studies showing how many jobs are set to become obsolete as a result of automation.
Since the debate was blown open by Oxford academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, whose 2013 paper suggested 47 per cent of American jobs were threatened by automation, the doom-laden predictions have just kept coming.
One survey suggests around 6 million workers in the UK fear their job will be gone within a decade, and the British Science Association has warned it could represent a greater threat than climate change.
But are those fears justified, and are we really about to enter a dystopian, machine-dominated future? After all, a new report by McKinsey has suggested artificial intelligence could deliver around $13tn additional economic activity worldwide by 2030.
Getting behind the headlines
To answer that question, we need to get beyond the headline numbers and examine the underlying issues.
Firstly, is it such a bad thing that some jobs are going to become obsolete? Shouldn’t we be welcoming the fact that the ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ occupations, as some have termed them, are soon going to become the preserve of robots?
In my teens and twenties, I did jobs from labouring on the docks to being a call centre operative—exactly the kind of work that automation may soon be accounting for.
If you’d told me back then that these jobs were going to be taken out of human hands, I wouldn’t have been rushing to the barricades to fight for them.
Much as automation represents a risk to livelihoods, we shouldn’t let that create a false nostalgia about jobs that most people would rather not do if given the choice.
Haulage, one of the sectors often pinpointed as most vulnerable to automation in the near future, should be welcoming the prospect with open arms.
As it stands, the industry is struggling to find enough people to drive trucks, because people’s priorities have changed, and the lifestyle of a long-haul driver is an increasingly tough sell.
Offering better work
That said, the automation of jobs people don’t want is only a good thing if they are replaced by ones that people do.
And that brings us…