The debate about the future of work continues to heat up. On one side are optimists who believe robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) will, like past technologies, create more jobs than they destroy. On the side are the pessimists who believe this time things will be different. They see robotics, automation, and AI eliminating more jobs than they create; thus, tossing society into dysfunctional state of mass unemployment and social unrest. Jessica Kelly, a Digital Content & Media Planning consultant, stated the following in an email she sent to me, “The dystopian concept of a robot workforce replacing fleshier colleagues is something which has been prevalent in the media for decades. Perhaps worryingly, for the first time in human history it looks as though that reality is coming to pass.” She bases that dark outlook on the number of companies turning to AI to augment or replace employees. She explains, “Huge names in the world of business are now turning to AI to carry out daily tasks for them. The job market has fluctuated throughout history, but these changes could be the first steps towards a totally new industrial age. Let’s hope it’s for the better.” She highlights her comments by noting, “Unsurprisingly, it’s Microsoft and Google who lead the way when it comes to the number of AI employees on their books. These tech giants have 1,964 and 837 mechanical workers respectively.” She also notes there are mixed indicators:
● Intel currently has 432 AI workers
● A staggering 33% of all jobs at Nvidia are done by computers
● Hitachi is less willing to give up on its human workforce, with just 1% of positions filled by AI
Kelly points to an online infographic provided by RS Components that shows “Who is recruiting for AI.” Whether you’re looking for a job or in fear of losing your job, the infographic is informative. In the email exchange, Kelly also included a link to another RS Components infographic, “The Jobs AI Will Take Over First,” depicting the number of jobs in various economic sectors predicted to be taken over by new technologies. That infographic should convince you of one thing: Even if robotics, automation, and AI create more jobs than they eliminate, the ugly truth is that they may force you to find a new job.
The future of work
Bloomberg reports, “More than 120 million workers globally will need retraining in the next three years due to artificial intelligence’s impact on jobs, according to an IBM survey. That’s a top concern for many employers who say talent shortage is one of the greatest threats to their organizations today. And the training required these days is longer than it used to be.” In many cases, the lack of skilled workers to fill job vacancies has forced companies to look to automation. Travis Hessman (@TmHessman), editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, notes, “The issue of skilled labor deficits … has persisted in the industry for decades.” He continues, “On one side, as U.S. unemployment sinks to progressively lower rates and operations become progressively more high-tech, the challenge to find enough skilled workers to take on the new opportunities this economy presents is enormous. In many cases, it’s simply impossible. On the other side, a new breed of automation solutions — from cobots and low-code traditional bots to machine learning and AI (and everything in between) seem to offer a range of capabilities so broad that many worry they will not only help fill all of our unfillable positions but also eat into existing high-wage jobs. These are significant issues and concerns that permeate the entire manufacturing industry.”
The issues Hessman describes go beyond manufacturing into most economic sectors. He explains, “Until fairly recently, robots have served one primary purpose: to overcome the physiological limitations of human beings. They allow us to lift the unliftable and move the unmovable at speeds beyond natural comprehension. In the process, they have allowed us to build bigger, better products, to grow and develop our society and meet its expanding needs. They gave our industries superhuman strength, leaving us to handle the human-powered work. But now, automation has changed. The new robot generation has a different purpose: to overcome both the physiological and psychological limitations of human beings.” The skills gap in manufacturing is often technical; however, other economic sectors have skills gaps that are less technical. Bloomberg journalists note, “Some skills take longer to develop because they are either more behavioral in nature like teamwork and communication or highly technical, such as data science capabilities.” They cite Amy Wright, IBM managing director for talent, who wrote in an email, “Reskilling for technical skills is typically driven by structured education with a defined objective with a clear start and end. Building behavioral skills takes more time and is more complex.”
Technology remains a job creator
Most recent studies conclude the pessimistic prediction of a future in which humans are completely replaced in the workplace are wrong. Lydia Dishman (@LydiaBreakfast) reports ZipRecruiter found many job seekers were worried about the pessimists’ dystopian future. ZipRecruiter polled “11,000 workers [and] found that 58% of job seekers think that AI will destroy more jobs than it creates.” Concerned by this finding, “ZipRecruiter’s data scientists analyzed over 50 million job postings, surveyed hundreds of employers, and thousands of job seekers, and examined specific use cases in five transitioning industries. They found that AI created about three times as many jobs as it took away in 2018. What’s more, while employers are already using AI tools, 81% of those surveyed said they preferred to hire a human over putting in a completely autonomous system.”
Mark Jagiela, CEO of automation and test equipment manufacturer Teradyne, believes studies, like one published by University of Oxford researchers in 2013 in which they predicted at least the 47% of jobs would be taken over by robots, are works of fiction. Jagiela says, “It’s pretty clear that prediction is wrong. Nobody is confronted with any meaningful sense of robots stealing jobs. Look at employment.” What are being taken over by robots are tasks rather than entire jobs. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean people holding jobs won’t find themselves in positions in which their job descriptions are completely rewritten. As Bloomberg journalists note, “Advancements in AI are expected to not only displace jobs but also create new ones. The challenge will be upskilling workers to fill the new jobs.”
Change is seldom easy and workers having to change jobs will undoubtedly experience some angst. If, however, they are willing to be retrained and reskilled, there is a good possibility they will never be out of a job.
 Bloomberg, “More robots mean 120M workers need to be retrained,” Information Management, 9 September 2019.
 Travis Hessman, “On Humans, Robots and the Future of Work,” IndustryWeek, 27 June 2019.
 Lydia Dishman, “Is AI killing jobs? Actually, it added 3x more than it replaced in 2018,” Fast Company, 27 June 2019.
 John Hitch, “The Great Robot Takeover: Fact or Fiction?” IndustryWeek, 7 June 2019.