Emergent technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing, and smart sensors, and unmanned vehicles threaten the job market. While these technologies are innovative and great for productivity, safety, and accuracy, the big concern people have is about their jobs. This is a valid concern, as these technologies will likely replace many jobs around the world. Oxford Economics forecasts that 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world will be lost as a result of robotics in the next ten years (Tappe, 2019). Government policy and economists need to adjust their policies to embrace human welfare in the case that productivity is still growing while unemployment grows. Yes, some people will find alternate forms of employment and become industrious with new opportunities. Others will be jobless and destitute without a change in policies that will help them survive.
Artificial intelligence and the potential for job displacement
The Bookings study discussed the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on jobs. Artificial intelligence, including the opportunities for machines to have contemplation, rationalization, judgement, intention, and decision making, has the potential to displace much of the workforce (West, 2015, p.4). Combined with robotics, artificial intelligence could replace fast food workers, line workers in a factory, quality assurance and inspection workers, transportation drivers, miners, soldiers, field harvesters, and advanced manufacturing (highly technical processes, machining, welding, assembly, maintenance). Without robotics, AI could replace diagnostic medical problems, predict future medical issues based on data, do predictive market analysis, make investment decisions, and improve factory processes based on data. AI could also engineer and design microchips, circuit boards, buildings, machines, roads, and innovate past human design. On a more mundane level, AI could act as a virtual assistant, automated receptionist, restaurant maître d’, human resources recruiter, or airline booking agent.
It is not impossible to consider that AI could take the place of managerial roles, as well. Imagine a group of employees that report to a virtual manager which tracks their performance, timekeeping, tasks, and incentives. That virtual manager could approve time off, motivate employees with rewards or inform them of performance or quality issues. It would be missing the human trust component, but a virtual manager would be consistent and would be ideal for more autonomous workers or task-based workers.
As artificial intelligence improves and evolves, it has the potential to displace jobs in many industries. Blue-collar jobs, analytic jobs, engineering jobs, medical jobs, and many other jobs will be displaced. There will still be space for humans in the workforce, but many jobs could be displaced. In fact, Carl Frey and Michael Osborn of Oxford University expect that 47% of U.S. workers will have their jobs automated in the next 20 years (West, 2015, p.8). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that 14% of positions around 32 countries are likely to be replaced, in any field from food preparation to construction, engineering, health care, and teaching (Economist, 2018).
Additive manufacturing and its impact on jobs
The Bookings study described 3-D printing as possibly impactful on jobs, since it can remove the need for shipping and complex manufacturing (West, 2015, p.6). Although there is a large demand for additive manufacturing through 3-D printing and it is enabling more complex design and different manufacturing methods, it is doubtful that additive manufacturing will drastically impact jobs and displace factory workers.
This is evident because robotics have been used in manufacturing for over 30 years with minimal displacement of jobs. Although additive manufacturing has the ability to create complex designs without machining, there is often still machining, assembly, and other factory tasks still required. For this reason, additive manufacturing will have the lowest negative effect on job growth. It is an amazing innovation, which will enable great new products and manufacturing capabilities, but it is not a huge displacer of jobs.
Impacts of emergent technologies on current life
Right now, artificial intelligence is becoming a part of daily life. It is seen in online job and recruiting platforms, virtual assistants (Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google), and in big data analysis, which collects our purchasing and browsing interests and markets products to us in a creepily invasive way. Artificial intelligence is empowering us to automatically parallel park our cars and drive us in our autonomous vehicles like Tesla cars. Artificial intelligence has crept into our social networking in the form of bots, which are sometimes impressively human. Lastly, AI reads our email and reminds us when bills are due and when we need to check in for our flights.
Of the emerging technologies, artificial intelligence will be the most impactful on the job market. This is because AI can replace almost any job or will be able to replace them eventually. Even a brain surgeon could be replaced by a precise surgical machine as technology evolves, driven by artificial intelligence which would enable on-the-fly adjustment, correction, problem solving, and diagnosis of additional problems. Artificial intelligence has the opportunity to not only replace thinking tasks that humans perform and the repetitive tasks that humans perform, but also the creative tasks that humans perform.
Economist. (2018). A study finds nearly half of jobs are vulnerable to automation. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/04/24/a-study-finds-nearly-half-of-jobs-are-vulnerable-to-automation
Teppe, A. (2019). Robots could take 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/25/economy/robot-jobs-manufacturing-automation
West, D.M. (2015). What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy. Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/robotwork.pdf
by Arthur Ocain