technological unemployment

Robots, AI and the future of your job — inspired at Singularity University, NASA

My time at Singularity University on this Summer’s global solutions program has taught me many things but one thing is for sure, sci-fi and reality are getting closer faster than we think.

Take Matternet (a Singularity University company), who have just signed a commercial agreement with Mercedes to provide autonomous flying drones that will deliver parcels to your door from a delivery van near you.

  • Matternet and Mercedes drone enabled Vision Van

Take Otto, the driverless truck software company, who, within six months of launching have been acquired by Uber for $680 million dollars. They enable truckers to keep trucking even when the driver is resting in the back.

Otto self driving trucks

Otto’s self driving truck software acquired by Uber

Or recently launched, Amazon Echo, the voice activated home controller hoping to transform in-home automation. I recently bought one to test it out and whilst still glitchy, voice controlling my Spotify, Nest and 5 minute meditation sure is handy.

Amazon echo

Amazon Echo — their master plan for a connected home

To the technology fan and entrepreneur in me, these examples all highlight massive progress. Technology can solve real problems, provide value, better prices for consumers and without a doubt enables positive impact across the board in fields ranging from energy to food to health.

With all these gains there have to be some costs. One for sure is our jobs. Based on international statistics from the World Bank, 57% of jobs are at risk because of automation enabling technologies such as AI and Robotics. Also, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report predicts 5 million jobs to be gone by 2020 based on surveying 65% of the world’s workforce. Unsurprisingly, the technology sector that creates these products only hires a small fraction. According to Comptia in the US, it’s 5.7% .

With this kind of change on the horizon, I found this topic so important and set about talking to experts and researching the field.

So what does the future look like for us humans and our place in the workforce? Here are three areas I think are particularly crucial and interesting.

Up-skilling becomes more important than ever

Building the Robotics and AI of the future will take time and clearly human involvement. That said, skills to be successful in the workplace and the jobs of the workplace are already changing fast.

According to the World Economic Forum’s top 10 skills at work at 2020, creativity is set to rise in importance as is emotional intelligence. Clearly job complexity is on the up.

WEF Top 10 skills

World Economic Forum Top 10 skills in the workforce

Also, the job families of administration and manufacturing are set for massive decline in the next 5 years. These are the same job families that Robots and AI are set to be deployed to first.

WEF jobs outlook

World Economic Forum employment outlook in major economies, job changes in thousands over 2015 to 2020

Could technology be utilised to help? We certainly hope so. That’s the goal of my classmates’ recent startup Udexter. They are launching an AI system that can help anyone re-skill and re-job.

Governmental policy changes

Speaking to two of the speakers at Singularity University, Vivek Wahdwa, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, and Dambisa Moyo, a leading global economist and author, both were adamant that the solution has to come from government policy. In my opinion, this makes real sense as I struggle to see a future with enough jobs for everyone.

So what’s being tested today at a policy level? The Netherlands and Finland have pilot projects to test universal basic income in the pipeline. Finland will test providing up to 10,000 people with an income of €500 to €700 per month which is below the average income of €2700 per month. Their experiment is set to measure if the ‘no strings attached’ income leads to greater employment given that unemployment is at a 15 year high. US isn’t ready for universal basic income testing but the technology startup incubator YCombinator has set about experimenting with basic income in their Californian neighbourhood to see what positive impact it makes.

Basic income debate

A giant poster in Geneva encouraging the universal basic income debate

Sweden has just moved to a 6 hr work day. Their research has shown that you can be as productive in 6 hours as in 8 hrs and it’s being implemented by different national employers. Working less hours can be part of the solution to technological unemployment where logically we just don’t need to work as much if automation is able to do it for us.

A time of greater creativity and entrepreneurship

This may be the utopian view but if people have enough money to meet their minimum needs or have greater free time, they can then choose to create a life they wish to lead. Some may choose to be with family or support their community. Others may choose the arts or creativity through the rising maker movement. The entrepreneurs will set-about looking to solving problems they see in the world. To me this would be a fantastic outcome – imagine millions more people from different backgrounds and experiences working together to solve problems that matter to them.

The futurist Glen Hiemstra, predicts that in 2050, we will let machines be smart for us while we will focus our energy on being creative and using our empathetic skills to help others. He suggests that we will see a rise in artists, entertainers and teachers.

With a four times increase in freelancing predicted by 2020 in the US, work as we know it is already changing. Whatever people choose to do, if it leads to a greater sense of personal purpose, it no doubt leads to greater happiness. This has to be good for society at large and likely reduce demands on national health and social services.

What technology can do for us is amazing. However, every gain has a cost. In this case, it’s our jobs. No doubt a complex issue, but one for which we need solutions …for everyone’s sake.

Get involved. What are your thoughts, questions or comments. Get in touch below or at @srisharma !

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