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Robot automation will 'take 800 million jobs by 2030' - report

By ITS Education Asia

The article http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42170100 is a worrisome prediction for the workforce situation that people will face in the near future.  2030 is only 12 years away which means this is the ‘predicted’ situation that many of those starting schooling now will face when they enter the labour force.  Possibly even more worrying is that it suggests that many jobs people now have will be disappearing and thus people in those occupations will face structural unemployment.

The figure of 800 million workers globally losing their jobs is enough to send shivers down one’s spine.  This suggests that everyone will feel the impact of the changes in the labour market.  This will directly or indirectly affect all of us in some manner.  The prediction that 1 in 3 people in the developed world will see their current jobs disappear by this time is dramatic.  Even if this article is overstating the scope and/or speed of these changes it would suggest trying to ignore such a trend is both foolish and dangerous.

The article certainly implies that consideration should be given when planning one’s career or choosing which industry to work in thought should be given to the effects automation/robots will have on the long term prospects for those jobs.

It is not that surprising that this trend is speeding up given the very high wages that are now being required in the developed world.  The article points out it is the developed world which will suffer the brunt of the job losses.  Businesses will increasingly seek to replace expensive unit labour costs with automation.  As Artificial Intelligence (AI) improves then humans become less necessary in delivering a service.  This related article ( Intelligent Machines: The jobs robots will steal first   http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33327659 even suggests occupations such as doctors will see the demand fall as AI can do a better, quicker, cheaper job of identifying diseases and recommending medication than individual doctors do.  The machine will always have access to the latest data and the AI will improve with the learning that comes over time.

I know from a personal point of view as a business owner there is constant pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency.  This leads to automation and outsourcing where possible to lower labour cost markets.  A business has no choice as the need to stay competitive requires this.  This is then combined with improved service.  An example would be an automated taxi driver that never gets lost and can speak every language.  Or an automated diagnostic machine that then very cheaply diagnoses many common ailments and prescribes suitable medication.

We all have seen examples of this happening in our lifetimes.  The first big noticeable area in my lifetime was the ATM replacing the need for many bank tellers.  In Hong Kong the octopus system has meant ticket sellers at public transport locations are now very few where they used to be many.  Bar code scanners have sped up checkouts and there are now numerous locations where people can auto scan their own shopping without the need for checkout operators.  Smart finger print scanners or facial recognition software have been reducing the amount of immigration counters needed at airports.

It is true that these technologies do create new jobs but not in the volume that the old ones are to disappear.  This has far reaching consequences for all of us.  Young people should consider the effect of these technological changes when considering their education choices and career options.  Everyone needs to do what ever they can to make themselves less vulnerable to sudden job loss due to technology.

The future is possibly a scary place for many who may see this unemployment hit them at some time soon in their working lives.

Dulwich College Singapore

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