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The march of technology and the rapid rate of automation continue to transform the workforce the world over. As machines take over more and more of the work traditionally done by human, there is a real fear that they may make human beings redundant. Is that true? Will machines displace us totally? Is there anything we can do to tackle this imminent problem?
Machines and robots have been replacing humans in many places because of the lower costs and the greater speeds at which they function. Online shopping for goods and services has replaced store personnel, travel agents, car park attendants, bank tellers, telemarketers and the like. But truth to tell, we as consumers like the convenience that we get via electronic transactions.
Change in the workforce composition
Technology & innovation always bring in a change in the workforce composition. Machines have been taking our jobs for centuries. Some jobs disappear, others appear in their place. But usually our time is made more valuable by the machinery we employ, we accomplish more. Washing machines, dishwashers, power tools and computers have removed the drudgery from manual work and have boosted our quality of life. Smartphones, self-driven vehicles, robotic surgery have made life easy on the whole.
But today, these transformations are taking place at an amazingly, never-seen-before rapid rate. On the other hand, the market isn’t evolving fast enough to keep up with this change so enough jobs are not being created. So people in low-paying, low skill jobs are being replaced by machines. They don’t have the skill sets for the new job market so they become unemployed.
Jobs at risk of being ousted by automation
Any job that involves any kind of routine or repetitive work – mental or physical – is increasingly at risk of being ousted by automation. Those who upgrade their skill set and learn new skills have a greater chance of staying employed. Those who manage and control the machines stay valuable to the organization. There are also certain occupations where creativity, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship and interpersonal skills are needed – viz priests, nurses, doctors, motivational speakers, health-caretakers, trainers, entertainers, teachers ; these jobs cannot be replicated or replaced by machines.
Another point is that just because something can be automated, doesn’t mean it will. People may not want certain things being done by machines or robots. In recent years there has been a shift back from machine-made objects to handcrafted artisan products, from ready-to-eat packaged food to hand-made gourmet cuisine. But while the core work in these cases remains the domain of humans, a lot of ancillary and associated work (accounts, procurement, selling etc) will still be done automatically, by machines.
Age of “cognitive computing”
In this age of “cognitive computing”, we have computers that can think and act like humans but at greater speed, efficiency and accuracy. Artificial intelligence is the new technology and it presents a major threat to jobs being done by people. If we are to remain employed, if we are to continue working, we need to remain relevant in the workplace, we need to augment and expand our skills and capabilities, we need to think ahead and gain expertise in areas that cannot be easily entered by machines and we need to develop the means of controlling and directing automation.
That is the competitive advantage we need to build if we are to retain our jobs in the face of the burgeoning power of machines.