Still a work­place for the hu­man race as AI and au­to­ma­tion take jobs


With ro­bots on the march, many tech vi­sion­ar­ies fore­see a world with far fewer jobs. The ad­vance of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and au­to­ma­tion, they say, will make much of the work peo­ple do ob­so­lete.

Some en­trepreneurs such as Tesla founder Elon Musk pre­dict so lit­tle hu­man work will be left that a uni­ver­sal so­cial safety net will be needed to main­tain eco­nomic or­der.

But a sun­nier em­ploy­ment pic­ture can be painted. At least 21 new job cat­e­gories may soon emerge from tech­no­log­i­cal and other so- ci­etal changes, says a re­port from IT ser­vices and con­sult­ing firm Cog­nizant Tech­nol­ogy So­lu­tions.

With ti­tles such as ge­netic di­ver­sity of­fi­cer, vir­tual store sherpa and per­sonal mem­ory cu­ra­tor, these roles aren’t science fic­tion, the study’s au­thors ar­gue. Rather, they are iden­ti­fied as jobs many em­ploy­ers will have to fill within the next decade.

“It’s eas­ier to un­der­stand what types of jobs are go­ing to go away,” says Ben Pring, di­rec­tor of Cog­nizant’s Cen­tre for the Fu­ture of Work, who with two other Cog­nizant ex­ec­u­tives wrote the re­cent book What to Do When Ma­chines Do Ev­ery­thing. The idea be­hind the re­port, he says, was “to craft a cred­i­ble nar­ra­tive of what we’re go­ing to gain”.

Other stud­ies have con­cluded that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and au­to­ma­tion can cre­ate jobs. Many com­pa­nies build­ing AI sys­tems have found that hu­mans must play an ac­tive role in build­ing and run­ning them. Store jobs lost to ecom­merce have been re­placed by jobs in ful­fil­ment cen­tres.

But defin­ing the jobs of the fu­ture can be tricky, some econ­o­mists warn. Job cre­ation de­pends on how much busi­nesses in­vest in their work­forces, the de­mand for cer­tain prod­ucts and ser­vices, and de­ci­sions made by work­ers, says Michael Re­ich, eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, and chair­man of the Cen­tre on Wage and Em­ploy­ment Dy­nam­ics.

Still, he says he dis­agrees with the grim no-jobs fu­ture that some en­vi­sion. “Even if an em­ployer would love to re­place all of their work­ers with ro­bots to make their cars, some­one needs to be able to buy those cars made by ro­bots for the busi­ness to func­tion,” he says.

Sev­eral of the jobs Pring and his col­leagues en­vi­sion in­volve help­ing com­pa­nies man­age ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and au­to­ma­tion. There is what the study calls data de­tec­tives: work­ers who dig into their em­ployer’s data stock­piles and gen­er­ate busi­ness rec­om­men­da­tions.

Man-ma­chine team­ing man­agers will be needed to en­sure ma­chines and hu­man work­ers col­lab­o­rate in a way that max­imises re­sults, the study says, while cy­ber city an­a­lysts will see that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ dig­i­tal sys­tems and pro­cesses func­tion smoothly.

On the low-tech end of the spec­trum, the study de­scribes ris­ing de­mand for walker-talk­ers, gig work­ers who an­swer calls to as­sist and pro­vide com­pan­ion­ship for a grow­ing el­derly pop­u­la­tion as peo­ple live longer. On the hi-tech side, aug­mented-re­al­ity jour­ney builders will help de­sign vir­tu­al­re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences for con­sumers, the study projects.

Pring and his col­leagues say the dawn­ing age of in­tel­li­gent ma­chines won’t be with­out painful up­heaval: they es­ti­mate about 19 mil­lion po­si­tions in the US will be au­to­mated out of ex­is­tence in the next 15 years, while em­ploy­ers cre­ate 21 mil­lion new roles.

At the same time, most ex­ist­ing ones will likely be en­hanced. “Work will change but it won’t go away,” Pring says.

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