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Will Artificial Intelligence create or destroy jobs in the future? By Nicholas O’Connor
As the Internet enables the automation of more and more of life’s daily chores, the effect on the global workforce is increasingly of concern. The workplace will adapt as it always does, but perhaps Artificial Intelligence (AI) will ensure that these shifts will demand far greater adjustments than ever before. So, what are these indicators of change? Let’s start with the reliance on trusted economic indicators from the industrial era where economic growth used to translate into an increase in employment. This situation was due to the reliance on human effort to drive economic activity.

However, research on economic activity and the US job market suggests that economies are growing without employment. In fact, two economists recently concluded that both jobs and wages fall in parts of the US where more robots are installed. The importance of this research is the indication that the growth of robots in the work place affects both
employment and wages negatively.

Of course, the effect of machinery on employment is not new. The Luddites obtained their infamy by travelling between village and town destroying weaving machinery in England in the 1700s and the introduction of steam-driven machines removed high paying jobs for ever. It is important to note that the workforce has always realigned when impacted by changing circumstances. Another example is the coal industry in the UK which at one time was employing in excess of 1.3 million coal miners. Today there are no more than 6000 coal miners still employed.

However, the effect of AI and robotics on the workforce has now also begun to impact politics, as Donald Trump is finding that the number of people employed can increase while the total percentage employed of working age falls. The effect of falling employment has been the focus of two distinct political groups, the supporters of global and free trade and the isolationist and often right wing views. Interesting though is that neither group often includes the effect of automation in their arguments. The evolution of trade was always based on willing buyers and sellers but, equally importantly, the means of production were historically provided and operated by humans. This meant that the system was to an extent a closed loop, the growth of an economy meant the growth of businesses and therefore the growth in employment opportunities.

The advent of the wheel and subsequent inventions each played a disrupting role and altered the percentage of human involvement in the production process. AI disrupts the production, the maintenance/service process and increasingly the decision-making process within trade.

And, as concerns increase regarding the impact of AI on employment, the impact on social stability and the sustainability of social structures becomes important. Who can afford to be a customer when the robots have all the jobs? These issues are being considered in the form of basic income payments which could be made to each citizen irrespective of the income or the individual’s means.

In fact, realities of AI, repetitive process automated tasks are certainly going to be the focus of machine leaning. The effect of these changes on developing nations could be compounded by the loss of low cost jobs which might be replaced by automated processes enabled by AI. The loss of offshoring opportunities for developing nations and the competitive increases in productivity by developed nations could exacerbate the existing economic divide and income disparity. What’s more, the advent of driverless cars and trucks is surely around the corner, which raises the question: where will the new jobs and opportunities be found?

Can AI create jobs?

History suggests that the workforce always evolves according to market demands, but the historical perspective has up until recently focused on the manufacturing, not the decision making. The future employment opportunities and the location of those opportunities will be determined by the effects of climate change and access to utilities.

The types of future (new) jobs will in the interim be in the Cloud infrastructure and software development which supports the digitalisation of the workplace. What’s more, the response has to come in part from the adaption of education to the changing demands of the workforce and the impact on the workplace. We could well see a surge in opportunities in the social sciences and industries supporting renewable and sustainable technologies.

The challenge that exists for every company is the need to adapt to changing environments or risk becoming obsolete. The challenge for the planet and the future of humanity’s economic relativity is the use of technology for the holistic improvement of humankind. At present, the rush towards automation does not appear to consider the broader economic implications. Should the conversion to automation of the global workforce pass an economic tipping point, a fundamentally different means of sustaining the world’s economy will be required. As technology evolves, companies and HR professionals will ultimately need to ensure that the digitisation of the global economy is an enabler of people.

Nicholas O’Connor is a Strategic Business Development Consultant at hi.guru.

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