For years we’ve been told robots and computers would take over our jobs. It’s something that we’ve been taught to fear by the many academics who have studied the future of work. In fact, it was only three years ago when an article by academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, studied the chances of jobs becoming automated in the USA, predicting that almost half of all jobs would be automated in the near future.
So, with the term ‘automation’ making a recurring appearance in the employment scheme today, many are left to wonder what exactly the term means and what the chances are of our colleagues turning into robotically-engineered humanoids. Right now, I can tell you that change to the workforce is coming, but it’s not time to fear the loss of your job yet.
Automation is simply the task of introducing more technology into the working environment. It’s something that has happened for centuries, with tools and technologies for specific jobs evolving and improving over time. Yes, you may think ‘but video killed the radio star’, but it’s no reason to think that computers will take over our jobs completely in the future.
One of the reason’s that Frey and Osborne got their research so wrong was because they perceived jobs to have only one task. By being active members of the workforce we know that, one, there is certainly more than one role that any employee must fulfill, and two, there are skills, knowledge and talents that humans possess, that computers simply don’t. Take a security guard for example; Automation has made their job a hell of a lot easier through security cameras that help guards see what’s happening from every angle, but that same camera isn’t going to track an individual down and make an arrest, unless it’s some intense terminator scene.
Within the year Frey and Osborne’s paper was released, academics Jeff Borland and Michael Coelli wrote an article in response to the paper looking at how automation would impact Australia’s workforce. The pair found that work hours in total had not decreased since the introduction of computer-based technologies and that unlike Frey and Osborne’s prediction, only 9% of Australia’s workforce would succumb to automation in the close future.
The fourth industrial revolution is the term used to describe the emergence of technology into the workforce. It’s as a result of the internet that we’ve seen business and employment move online with services such as travel bookings, banking and real estate – which were once conducted face-to-face – now performed mostly online. While some may see this as a bad thing, it has opened many opportunities, becoming a saviour in one of our most unpredictable times amid a global pandemic.
While Borland and Coelli still believe that robots may take our jobs one day, it’s important to understand that jobs do evolve and change with technology being one aspect of this. Instead we can learn to adapt and embrace it as history has shown that automation has the tendency to make life easier. Look at the evolution of the printing press for example. Printing once required several workers, time and money to produce black and white copy, however today, printing one page only takes ten seconds at an average cost of ten cents. At the end of the day automation is not the sole disruptor and humans are still required to be at the end of the decision-making tree.