Technological Unemployment and Rise of the Machines

Technological Unemployment and Rise of the Machines

As the world progresses and quickly evolves into a sophisticated global village, it would not be out of place to expect technological changes which would involve the introduction of labour-saving and energy enhancing gadgets – what many has described as machine-muscle and machine-mind. It is expected that most human automated roles would be performed by robots.

The phrase technological unemployment was popularized in the mid-20th century by British mathematician and economist, John Maynard Keynes, who said it was “only a temporary phrase of maladjustment”. In effect the impact of unemployment as caused by innovation and advancement in technology would be short lived–without a long term effect.

Researchers and scholars in the age-long debate of technological unemployment include the optimists and pessimists. The optimists posited that although innovation may be detrimental to jobs in the short term, however, they believe that there is a positive compensation effect that would be of great impact in long term. On the other hand, the pessimists argue that new technology will lead to a lasting decline in the number of workers in employment.

Even as Europe endured a steady decline in employment, especially since the 1970s, many economists and general public have held on to the optimistic view. But studies in the 21st century have tilted toward the pessimistic side. Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne have estimated that 47 percent of jobs in the US are at risk of automation. However, the duo have repeatedly made it clear that their findings do not necessarily imply technological unemployment in the future.

On technological unemployment, experts agreed on two things: that temporal job loss can result from technological innovation and that innovation can have a positive effect on workers. However, swords are drawn in the area of whether or not innovation can have a lasting negative impact on overall unemployment. In 1960s, pessimists used “structural unemployment” to further reinforce their position that the phenomenon was largely caused by technological unemployment. Interestingly, even optimistic economists accept that structural unemployment has risen, but they blame this mainly on globalization and governments inability to pursue expansionary policies.

It is generally agreed that innovation resulting to technological unemployment will have a brutal effect on workers with low skills or unskilled workers, while benefiting skilled workers. Further studies by researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne concludes that innovation would be more disruptive to middle and unskilled jobs and that in the coming decade, automation would impact heavily on these jobs. Although, the impact of these innovations is not limited to unskilled and middle skilled jobs, Frey and Osborne also found strong correlation between education and income with the ability to be automated, with office and service jobs being high risk. Further predictions from Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems indicates that 80 percent of medical doctors job would be lost in the next 20 years to automated machine learning medical diagnostic software.

Now the real questions for most 21st century workers and employees are; how safe is my job? Am I replicable? Do I need to acquire more skills and what areas? Between 2000 and 2010, the United States of America lost over 5 million jobs in a single economic sector (manufacturing). Research from Ball State University found out that 85 percent of job losses during that period were due to technological advancement and automation.

A more remarkable fact about the current statistics is that even as human capital reduced, outputs increased exponentially. This goes to show how machines and robots have now become integral parts in productivity.

Another study by McKinsey in 2017 says that 800 million jobs would be lost to automation worldwide by 2030, Artificial Intelligence and tech advancement being the culprit here.  Another finding by the University of Oxford and Deloitte in 2014 predicts that 35 percent of the jobs today in the UK would go to robots by 2034.

The answers to these imminent problems may not be far-fetched, adaptation holds the key to this, workers who are at risk should expand their skills, learn a new skill that would be relevant, thanks to professional course like ACCA, and workers who feel threatened can move to take up roles in accounting and finance. Furthermore, to be more prepared, one must take advantage of online courses and industrial seminars and get certifications. Indeed, preparation is key, workers or potential workers must begin to think innovatively. The governments have major role to play in this regard.

They should promote skills training so as to reduce the number of workers in the high risk zones of unskilled labour and middle skilled workers. Leading technology research university MIT published an open letter to policymakers advocating for the "reinvention of education", namely a shift "away from rote learning" and towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. Countries must now begin to embrace education reforms which can fast-track their economic development.

Technology; AI and Robots are inevitable. They are our future. They would play key roles in shaping our future whether we like them or not. Conversations should shift from how we can go against technology, to how we can ride the current and become more in touch with technology – the future.