Will a computer steal your job?
Earlier this year, research consultancy McKinsey & Company published a report that identified critical IT-enabled business trends for the coming decade. One of them – the automating of knowledge work – has implications that arguably go far beyond the business world, with the potential to impact the social and political spheres as well. The reason being that as computers and machines become faster and smarter with each passing year, they threaten to go beyond just replacing the low-skilled fac- tory worker.
“Physical labour and transactional tasks have been widely automated over the last three decades,” the McKinsey report stated. “New advances in data analytics, lowcost computer power, machine learning, and interfaces that ‘understand’ humans are moving the automation frontier rapidly toward the world’s more than 200m knowledge workers.”
Put simply, knowledge workers are those whose primary capital is knowledge. For example, doctors, engineers, architects and consultants are knowledge workers because they are paid to think – as opposed to being paid for their muscle power.
Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the US, and his colleague Andrew McAfee have been making similar – if not more threatening – statements to the McKinsey report for some time. The two academics have been arguing that the rapid advances in computer technology – from improved robotics to automated translation services – are largely behind the tepid employment