The Future of Work: Misplaced Anxiety?

Are you anxious a machine will replace your job one day?

It’s a common enough fear that many have, especially with the rate that technology is advancing at. If you’ve read my latest blog posts, you will know that technology is accelerating exponentially!

We have seen the equivalent of 20,000 years of technology in just one century. Naturally, people worry about what this means for the future of work?

This is not a new fear, of course. For centuries, there have been predictions that machines and technological advancements would put people out of work.

In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I explore “technological unemployment” in more detail. You can listen to the episode below or keep reading to find out more.

Will machines replace our jobs?

This is certainly a debate that splits opinion. However, historians, economists, and futurists say that machines replacing workers is “misplaced anxiety.”

In the past three hundred years, we have seen radical technological change, and yet there is still plenty of work for people to do.

Experts acknowledge that, yes, technology can cause a loss of jobs. However, new jobs are inevitably created in the process. As new technology evolves, so does the need for new skills and new work.

Automation and the use of machines increase productivity, which, in turn, leads to the creation of more jobs and increased GDP.

A well-known example is the rise of ATMs in the 1990s, which led to widespread job loss for bank tellers. However, ATMs enabled banks to increase their productivity and profits. Eventually, this led them to open more branches and hire more staff.

The bank tellers found that their role was still needed but had changed after ATMs were introduced. They began to spend most of their time carrying out more value-added, non-routine tasks instead.

Likewise, in the Industrial Revolution, when mechanical looms were introduced, many highly skilled weavers lost their jobs. However, even more jobs were created for less-skilled workers who needed to operate the machinery.

Experts are optimistic about AI

People who study economics and AI are optimistic for the future. They believe that while machines will be perfect for performing routine tasks, they will struggle with non-routine tasks.

This means that some jobs will be ideal for machines, but there will still be a great need for human workers. We will still need the cognitive, creative, and emotional skills that machines simply don’t have.

Rather than looking at it as humans vs. machines, human workers will instead complement machines and always be needed.

How is AI predicted to affect jobs in the future?

The World Economic Forum, headed by Klaus Schwab, author of the 4th Industrial Revolution, recently released a report on the Future of Work.

This report estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs will be lost through artificial intelligence. The good news is 97 million jobs could be created!

This appears in line with mainstream thinking that technological unemployment is not something to worry too much about for now. However, on reading the report in more detail, there are some red flags that are hard to ignore.

Surveys show that 43% of businesses plan to reduce their workforce due to technology, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling in the next five years. In the meantime, it looks like job creation is slowing while job destruction accelerates.

Other articles on the World Economic Forum website seem to dampen the optimism that some experts have on the future of work. One example is the profession of psychologists.

Previously, it was assumed that the work of a psychologist would require extensive empathic and intuitive skills. It seemed the perfect example of a job that wouldn’t be at risk of automation.

However, experts predict that AI will reduce the need for psychologists. During the pandemic, the use of meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace and Calm have soared, as well as other technology-meditated forms of therapy.

The most recent report concluded that psychologists will largely be replaced by artificial intelligence.

So, what does this mean? Is the anxiety about technological unemployment misplaced, or should we be worried? Will machines be able to perform even the most human tasks?

What could a world without work look like?

If this is our future, then how soon can we expect it?

People are slowly exploring the idea of a world without work. For example, Daniel Susskind’s book, A World Without Work, paints an interesting picture of the future. This book has been described as “required reading for any presidential candidate.”

I also had a glimpse of what a world without work could look like in the science fiction series, The Expanse. I’ll be exploring both in detail in my next episode.

If you enjoyed this episode and blog post, subscribe to the Short and Sweet AI podcast. Please leave a rating and a review because it shows others this podcast is worth listening to and gives me encouragement. You can subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and others!

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