Digitization is killing jobs, but creating new ones, too

Digitization is killing jobs, but creating new ones, too

Digitization is killing jobs, but creating new ones, too
This representation of a digital subway shows how AI is becoming part of the backbone of our economies and everyday lives. (Siemens)
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A few weeks ago, I read the new book by Kevin Roose, “Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation.” The book’s main idea is how to prepare for the worrying trend of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) making many of our jobs disappear.
There is, indeed, growing anxiety among both current employees and college students who will soon enter the job market about which jobs will disappear and what can be done about it.
Three years ago, I attended a debate about AI at a major Arab student summit on science and technology in Amman, Jordan. The question on the table was whether AI represents a clear and imminent danger to humanity. The debaters mentioned a number of potential problems, chief among them the threat to jobs that humans perform today but that smart robots will do better and cheaper, and thus take over. At the end of the debate, the audience was invited to vote, and the side arguing for a clear and imminent danger of AI won decisively.
Roose has researched the impact of automation, in particular, and artificial intelligence on jobs. However, he first stresses that this is not the first time humanity has undergone an industrial revolution (we are now in the fourth one), and that job profiles and market landscapes have changed greatly.
Second, some jobs have indeed been disappearing recently (ATMs replacing human bank tellers, for example) and others will soon follow (truck driving, for example), but new ones have also emerged (cybersecurity specialists, drone remote controllers and others). Indeed, some jobs are dirty, dangerous or boring (don’t we want to automatize garbage collection?), and we should welcome their disappearance — as long as we know how to reposition their workers.
Most importantly, Roose argues, this is a time to reflect on how to best use human potential since there are things that no machine will do better than us, at least in the foreseeable future.
If you search the web for “disappearing jobs” or “jobs of the future,” you will find hundreds of websites and articles. An interesting one is the “Jobs of the Future Index” by Cognizant, a multinational company that provides services on information technology, outsourcing and business.
The index it publishes is based on two main rubrics: a) The expected growth of various economic sectors (food manufacturing, transportation, construction, etc.), taking into account the digitization of particular jobs and workplaces; and (b) jobs that are integral to industries which are expected to grow in the coming decades due to the digitization trend.
This jobs index is updated regularly, taking into account monthly data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections and other databases and economic analyses.
In its most recent projection, Cognizant identifies 21 jobs for the next 10 years, graphed on two axes: Time (short term, longer term) and technicity (low tech, high tech). Examples include data detective, cyber city analyst, AI-assisted healthcare technician, “walker/talker” (a person who assists elderly people), virtual store guide, and virtual or augmented-reality journey builder (replacing the traditional travel agent).
Other observers, commentators and websites propose more “down-to-earth” jobs that will be in high demand in the future, including nurses and care workers (as we live longer, we will need more helpers and care providers), behavioral and mental health specialists (to deal with the anxieties of the fast-changing world), epidemiologists, robotics engineers, software developers, cybersecurity experts, digital effects developers (for movies and documentaries), and school teachers. It is reassuring to note that school teachers are not about to be replaced by robots, although they will need to keep upgrading their skills and resources with the ever-growing programs and banks of knowledge that will become available to them.

Today’s machines and intelligent software are killing jobs but also creating new ones and upgrading the way we work and live (in healthcare, education, entertainment and other areas).

Nidhal Guessoum

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt from both Roose’s book and Cognizant’s website and index is that while we must carefully navigate the present in full awareness of the fast-evolving trends, our view and outlook need not be gloomy. Work has always changed, and new technologies solve problems but always create new tasks. Today’s machines and intelligent software are killing jobs but also creating new ones and upgrading the way we work and live (in healthcare, education, entertainment and other areas).
Most importantly, while robots can build other robots (in the assembly lines of factories), they still need to be programmed and controlled by humans. In the future, they might independently create things outside our control, but this is still rather far down the road, and some thinkers and policymakers are currently discussing ways to keep AI under full human control to prevent robots from “taking over.”
Last, but not least, we humans must play to our strengths, use our imagination and ingenuity, which have been our best assets throughout history, and not try to compete with the machines. To figure out how to live and work in a world full of robots and intelligent programs, we will need the insights and help of philosophers, sociologists and other social scientists as much as those of engineers and economists.

  • Nidhal Guessoum is a professor at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. Twitter: NidhalGuessoum
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view