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The Future of Work: Misplaced Anxiety?
Episode 4622nd March 2021 • Short & Sweet AI • Dr. Peper
00:00:00 00:06:05

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Are you anxious that a machine will one day replace your job? It’s a common enough fear, especially with the rate technology is advancing.

If you have watched any of my previous episodes, you will know that technology is accelerating exponentially! We have seen the equivalent of 20,000 years of technology in just one century.

Naturally, people worry about what this means for the future of work. Will human workers become obsolete one day?

In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I explore “technological unemployment” in more detail and whether it’s something we should be concerned about.

In this episode find out:

  • Why some experts think the anxiety over technological unemployment is misplaced
  • Why economists and AI experts are optimistic about AI’s impact on jobs
  • How AI could contribute to job creation and loss
  • The surprising impact technology has on certain job roles

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Episode Transcript:

Hello to you who are curious about AI. I’m Dr. Peper and today I’m talking about the future of work.

For centuries there’ve been predictions that machines would put people out of work for good and give rise to technological unemployment. If you’ve been listening to my episodes you know that technology today is accelerating exponentially. We are living at a time when many different types of technology are all merging and accelerating together. This is creating enormous advances which some have said will lead to the equivalent of 20,000 years of technology in this one century. And experts are asking what does that mean for the future of work?

Historians, economists, and futurists describe the anxiety about new machines replacing workers as a history of misplaced anxiety. Three hundred years of radical technological change have passed and there is still enough work for people to do. The experts say, yes, technology leads to the loss of jobs, but ultimately more new jobs are created in the process. Automation and the use of machines increases productivity which leads to creation of new jobs and increased GDP.

A well-known example would be the rise in the use of ATM machines in the 1990s which led to many bank tellers losing their jobs. But at the same time, the ATMs enabled banks to increase their productivity and profits and led to more branches being opened and more bank tellers being hired. The bank tellers now spent their time carrying out more value-added, non-routine tasks.

In the early industrial revolution, when mechanical looms were introduced, many highly skilled weavers lost their jobs, but even more jobs were created for less-skilled workers who operated the machines.

People who study economics and AI are optimistic. They think machines can readily perform routine tasks in a job but would struggle with non-routine tasks. Humans will still be needed for their cognitive, creative, and emotional skills that machines don’t have. In this way, workers will complement machines and will always be needed.

The World Economic Forum, headed by Klaus Schwab who wrote the 4th Industrial Revolution, released a recent report on the Future of Work. They estimated by 2025, 85 million jobs will be lost through artificial intelligence, but 97 million new jobs created. This goes along with the mainstream thinking that technological unemployment is not something to worry about in the foreseeable future. But when you read the report in more detail, some red flags emerge.

Surveys show 43% of businesses are set to reduce their workforce due to technology, 50% of all employees will need reskilling in the next 5 years, and job creation is slowing while job destruction accelerates.

Many articles on the world economic forum website also dampen the prevailing optimism for the future of work. One example is the profession of psychologists.

Previous projections assumed the work of a psychologist requires extensive empathic and intuitive skills. Initially, it was thought very unlikely to be replicated by a machine during our lifetime. But experts have found artificial intelligence has become woven into the fabric of our daily lives at an accelerating pace. With the pandemic, the use of meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace and Calm has soared, as well as other technology-mediated forms of therapy. The most recent report concluded it’s almost certain the work of psychologists will be replaced in large part by artificial intelligence.

So what’s going on here? Is anxiety about technological unemployment misplaced or will machines be able to perform most human tasks, and how soon?

Well, I’ve uncovered another penetrating viewpoint on the future of work in a book by Daniel Susskind. The book’s been described as “required reading for any presidential candidate.” His premise is the future of work is A World Without Work, which is the title of his book. And I had a glimpse of what a world without work looks like in the science fiction series, The Expanse. I’ll be talking about both in my next episode.

What do you think? Do you feel anxious that your job will be replaced by a machine during your lifetime?

Please leave me your thoughts in the comments, and a review if you like this episode. From Short and Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper.