With AI poised to transform the workplace, Fast Future’s Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Rohit Talwar look at what workers will need to survive and thrive

It seems that whatever the country, whatever the economic context, one question is becoming ever more pertinent: what is the future of work in an era of exponential technology development?

Artificial intelligence is arguably the big game-changer and becoming more commonplace. We already see some AI in use in internet searches, customer targeting applications, and in predictive analytics. But AI has much greater capability, which will merge into every aspect of our lives in the future. Increasingly devices will learn more about us, provide an ever-increasing range of support and take on more of our tasks. We are automating a lot more activity in literally every sector and that is set to accelerate.

The goal for some – regarded as unappealing and potentially dangerous by others – is for AI to replicate human intelligence. That does create questions of the balance in society between human and machine. What are the ethical and control questions that need to be answered to ensure we harness the potential of AI in service of society and not just the technology corporations?

Future of business

In our recent book on “The Future of Business”, we have identified 30 different trillion-dollar industry sectors of the future, which we grouped into clusters. We expect these clusters and the underlying sectors to be impacted radically by exponential technology developments:

·         Information and communications

·         Production and construction systems

·         Citizen services and domestic infrastructure

·         New societal infrastructure and services

·         Transformation of accounting, legal, and financial services

·         Energy and environment

So, we can clearly see the significant disruptive potential that technology offers to emerging sectors and the new players within them.

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The McKinsey Global Institute looked at which technologies will drive the economy of the future. It found that mobile internet, the automation of work knowledge, the internet of things (where many factory, office, and household devices and appliances are connected to the internet), and cloud computing would be the most significant creators of new economic value. McKinsey also singled out advanced robotics and autonomous vehicles as playing a significant part in future economic growth.

Given the importance of the issue, it is not surprising that there have been a number of research projects exploring what this scale of technological change means for the future of work.

In 2014 Pew Research posed the question: “Will networked, automated, AI and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?” Its key findings were:

·         48% of respondents said that robots and digital agents will displace significant numbers of blue-collar and white-collar workers

·         Society would see increases in income inequality, significant numbers of unemployable people, and breakdowns in the social order

·         Conversely, 52% said technology will not displace more jobs than it creates. Lost jobs would be offset by human ingenuity creating new occupations, and industries

·         This group also pointed out that current social structures (eg education) are not adequately preparing people for the skills needed in the future job market.

US jobs most vulnerable

A 2013 study on the Future of Employment by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School explored the probability of computerisation for 702 occupations and asked which jobs are most vulnerable. The study found that 47% of workers in the US had jobs at high risk of potential automation. The most at-risk groups were transport and logistics (taxi and delivery drivers), sales and services (cashiers, counter and rental clerks, telemarketers and accountants), and office support (receptionists and security guards).  The equivalent at risk-workers were 35% of the workforce in the UK and 49% in Japan.

Credit: Chombosan/Shutterstock Inc.

A premium on social skills

The World Economic Forum’s study into The Future of Jobs last year estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will work in job types that don’t yet exist, and that 3.5 times as many jobs could be lost to disruptive labour market changes in the period 2015–2020 than are created. While the study saw job losses in routine white-collar office functions it saw gains in computing, mathematics, architecture, and engineering-related fields.

The report identified a number of job categories and functions that are expected to become critically important by 2020:

·         Data analysts – leveraging big data and AI

·         Specialised sales representatives – commercialising and articulating new propositions

·         Senior managers and leaders – to steer companies through the upcoming change and disruption

 “By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today,” the report concluded. “Social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control.”

Our view is that we could well see 80% or more of current jobs disappearing in the next 20 years. Some will become obsolete, others will be fully or partially automated and in many cases tasks will be redesigned to eliminate the need for human input and decision-making. The big question here is whether these jobs will be replaced by the combination of entrepreneurship, increased investment in education and training, human endeavour and the rise of the six sector clusters described above. While we don’t know the answer, there is a lot we can do today to prepare for possible disruption.

As individuals there are new skills we need to think about acquiring now to equip us for the world of work in the future. A new set of survival skills for the 21st century will include foresight, curiosity, sense-making, accelerated learning, with a tolerance of uncertainty, scenario-thinking, coping with complexity, and collaborative working.

Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Rohit Talwar are from Fast Future, which publishes books exploring how AI, robotics and disruptive thinking  could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors.  

AI  automation  jobs  technology 

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