A robot is coming for your job

A robot is coming for your job

Is it true that children born today will have no employment in the future?  That depends on how you look at this question.  Eighty percent of current jobs will not exist once the Fourth Industrial Revolution is achieved.  That reality is perhaps a decade or so away, or in the 2030-2040 timeframe. The disappearance of jobs as we know them is guaranteed.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are transforming the way humans conduct their daily lives, including the impact on their labor.   We now see drones and driverless cars regularly while technologists are creating robust four-legged and two-legged androids, equal in most capabilities to organic counterparts.  As AI and robotics enter our daily lives, an epic shift in the way human interaction occurs will open new areas of creativity.  But the opportunity for lower-skilled labor to shift to this new reality is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later because of the potential size of that pool of “unemployables.” 
There is more. There are concerns  that  the 4IR  may  lead  to  increased  unemployment,  lower  wages  and  new forms of inequality.  While job destruction and job creation during the transformation stage to full 4IR is subject to social, economic and legal frameworks, the process of releasing workers from their jobs will be up to management and corporate managers but also emerging economic and social pressures in an increasingly complex info-driven world where data and info-intelligence mix.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that automation provides the opportunity for better-skilled, higher-quality and more lucrative employment in the future, and countries in the Arabian peninsula are leading the way. 

Dr. Theodore Karasik

The pace and scope at which companies integrate AI and robotics into the work force will determine the rate of shedding employees whose skills are no longer required based on transforming to 4IR.  This concept of hiring/releasing people as technology changes is not new, but with the rapid cycle of techno-innovation, reductions in the workforce are likely to become the norm across job categories.  There is no doubt that the magnitude of the change in the labor market means that those trained in everything from facial reconstruction surgery to school teaching will need to retool in a future where their current education, critical thinking and talents, may not be applicable.  This phenomenon is not just limited to specific countries; it’s a global risk issue and a problem in future mega-cities.
Transformation provides opportunities for appropriately skilled employees and critical thinkers for emerging jobs involving fintech, blockchain, 3-D printing, knowledge management systems, and mega-data related management and execution skills on cloud-based systems. In addition, crypto-currencies are taking off and as regulatory frameworks are brought into law, these currencies will ultimately replace the paper and metal we still use for transactions.  Life, and the quality of living, will improve for those who are eager for this new future.  Although printed money and minted coins are likely to continue in the short term, this form of exchange will disappear like the rotary, land-line telephone.
To be sure, from incubators to start-ups, a younger generation is eagerly taking up the challenge of transformation and is a major driver in guaranteeing that future generations are prepared for 4IR.  In addition, automation provides the opportunity for better-skilled, higher-quality and more lucrative jobs in the future.  Embracing automation is important as this technology enters the workplace.  The United States is eagerly working on this future through a variety of agencies and technology hubs producing some of the most advanced concept and technologies of this next wave.
On the Arabian peninsula, the future of 4IR is already here.  The UAE has an AI Minister, the first in the world, as well as an extremely active and future orientated 4IR as a model with assertive plans for achieving key government goals of becoming paperless in just a few years.  In addition, Dubai is attracting key talent for setting key targets in the UAE’s quest to achieve AI breakthroughs.  In turn, Saudi Arabia’s Neom, the futuristic 4IR city straddling three countries, is to be the gold standard for transregional AI integration from around the world. 
The knock-on effect of these programs and aspirations on the Arabian Peninsula is already affecting labor in the Arabian Gulf states. Transformation will affect the labor prospects for expatriates in the Gulf.  This shift produces a sea-change in expatriate requirements as workers need to adjust to new economic realities combined with the near-term geopolitical environment.
The hope is that governments are able to capture the wave of the 4IR and prepare a restructured workforce for this new era.  The only way for a successful implementation of AI strategy and doctrine is to start now.  Luckily academics and researchers have been investigating and thinking about the impact of AI and robotics in society for several decades. 
Places such as China, Russia and European countries are developing further their 4IR strategies. Both Moscow and Beijing released structured documents about AI requirements and planning documents that closely mirror each other, while EU efforts are making progress.  A fundamental divide between Europe and Russia and China in achieving AI in the 4IR is that a race for achievement becomes a strategic goal. Labor may very well be the next geopolitics given global risk issues posed by increasingly unemployment.
Overall, the 4IR will shift labor into a new level of skill sets, thinking and most importantly, agility.  The types of jobs replaced by AI and robotics are going to cut deep into current concepts of education and future employment opportunities.  Understanding the implications of 4IR for everyone is a recommended social responsibility as critical thinking needs to go into the current period of transformation as advanced technologies continue to alter human existence and the way laborers earn income.  Those babies you see in strollers?  Their future is promising. But governments need to take the lead in collaborating with industry on 4IR to ensure no human is left behind along with the hundreds of millions of redundant jobs.   

  • Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. He is a former RAND Corporation Senior Political Scientist who lived in the UAE for 10 years, focusing on security issues. Twitter: @tkarasik
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view