If jobs are being automated at a great pace, then the one job that doesn’t appear to be heading that way is those responsible for writing report after report on the matter. The latest has been produced by banking giant Barclays.
The report, called Robots at the Gate, accepts that technological disruption has occurred throughout human history, and examines whether the disruption associated with the 4th industrial revolution is really going to be different to the previous three.
From there it provides a literature review of previous studies on the topic to try and draw together some insights into how AI technologies will impact the workplace.
A familiar trope?
The finding is a fairly familiar one, in that they strongly suspect that technology will thrive in areas where technology has traditionally thrived, ie routine, repetitive and back-breaking tasks. They do speculate that AI will be increasingly able to perform cognitive tasks that have been previously the preserve of humans however.
This must come with some caveats however. For instance, recently I had a discussion with some senior data managers at a Danish bank, and to say their application of AI is rudimentary is perhaps an understatement. For all the future innovations outlined in reports such as that produced by Barclays, none of these have progressed beyond pilot phases yet.
That isn’t to say that they won’t progress beyond them, but the technological landscape is littered with innovations that seemed a sure thing only to wither and die for various reasons.
Adapting to change
History tells us that adapting to technological change is the best strategy, and in many ways the changes wrought by the 4th industrial revolution are no different. There are likely to be a number of novel challenges to overcome however.
Firstly the breadth of change is likely to be considerable, so the need for education will go up considerably. The supply side still grapples with mushrooming costs and difficulties in scaling up supply of high-quality education.
“Moreover, education may not be the panacea it once was; empirically, the ‘education premium’ has slowed in recent years. Data scientists and on-call plumbers might both have a future, but not workers in jobs that can be routinised awayMore targeted retraining, including vocational courses tailored to the digital age, is likely to be part of the solution,” the authors say.
This re-training is crucial though, as the introduction of these new technologies will, and indeed is, lowering productivity whilst organizations adapt. It’s a point Barclays have made before, and improvements from the new technologies can take decades to be realized.
Overall however, the authors are optimistic that the introduction of these new autonomous technologies will be a boon for society over the coming decades.
“Historically, society has always found a way to adapt to both the beneficial and the challenging effects of technological change,” they conclude. “We believe that people will successfully navigate the current period of technological change as they have in previous periods of technological advancement throughout history.”