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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

AI: Automation of work – the tide is turning

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

‘Powerful new automation technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics have already started to transform the Australian economy and are set to reach scale in the decades ahead.’ (1)

‘Robotic process automation software, which uses AI to learn quickly how a repetitive human task is performed - and then repeat it automatically - is being used in jobs once the sole domain of humans. Robots are now making pizzas, cleaning skyscraper windows, harvesting food, completing office administration - and doing many other formerly human tasks.’ (2)

‘Of course, there are jobs that robots can’t do – especially those demanding human emotion and empathy – but as time goes on and machines continue to develop - these jobs will become fewer and fewer.’ (3)

‘And as they slowly, but relentlessly, take on more and more tasks, humans will be forced to retreat to an ever-shrinking set of activities - there’s no reason to believe there will be enough demand to employ all those who are able to do the remaining work.’ (4)

In 2019, McKinnsey reported that:

‘Australia’s job market will shrink by 11 per cent by 2030 due to the rise of increasingly capable automation technology - knocking 1.5 million people out of work.’ (5)

But the pandemic slowed the speed of automation.

  • Sales of job automation software fell during the pandemic.

  • It was difficult to co-ordinate projects – with home working and travel bans part of daily life. (6)

We wrote in 2021 that we didn’t see jobs being impacted in any significant way. (7)

However, in the words of classical economist, Paul Samuelson:

‘When the facts change, I change my mind.’

Now things are moving again.

  • Research by McKinsey recently found that companies have a renewed desire to automate their processes and customer interactions. (8)

  • The Harvard Business Review reports that the amount spent on automating logistics functions, for example, will double by 2026. (9)

The post-pandemic world has produced a fertile ground for a dramatic transformation of the jobs market due to automation.

  • There are shortages of talent across many professions – as ‘The Great Resignation’ takes hold.

  • The need for social distancing has provided a boost to the deployment of robots and AI. ‘It’s true for every type of work – from factories to warehouses to retail shops to offices – automation will be used to reduce human density.’ (10)

‘As companies struggle to find the skills needed, they’re increasingly turning to the mind-bending capabilities of AI software and humanlike robots - to fill the gaps in the workforce. (11)

This time will be different.

There may be social and political consequences:

(Research shows in those US states which have lost jobs through automation, there was a high vote Trump turnout.) (12)

In his book, ‘The Rise of the Robots,’ Martin Ford argues that robotics and AL will eventually destroy jobs that are routine and predictable. In the past, however, this hasn’t had a high impact on the overall jobs or unemployment pictures.

‘Technological disruption tended to impact on a sector-by sector basis – technology in agriculture destroyed millions of jobs – but a rising manufacturing sector was able to absorb workers.’ (13)

In contrast, automation in the future will impact all sectors – low skilled jobs will be eliminated across all sectors – displaced workers will have nowhere to go – unless they upskill.

And it’s not only ‘full jobs’ that will be automated – but tasks and ‘parts of jobs’ where repetitive processes and routines exist. (14)

‘Creeping automation.’

‘These could be scary times for workers who are not prepared – but for those who keep up with developments and learn new skills, this could be a time that presents an abundance of opportunities.’ (15)

So, what should we do?

In our blog ’12 Rules for a Brilliant Career,’ the firs three rules are:

  • Rule 1 – Take control of your own self – development. This is crucial – and learning new things has never been easier.

  • Rule 2 - Learn skills that will be useful in the future – not skills that were useful in the past.

  • Rule 3 – When it comes to your career, play the Infinite Game – no need to compare yourself to your colleagues or peers – your career is a long-term project. The only person you should compare yourself with is – you, yesterday. Do you have more skills and experience now than yesterday? (16)

All still good advice - as we prepare ourselves for the ‘future of work.’

Yuval Noah Harari writes:

By2050, it’s agreed that machine learning and robotics will change every line of work – from producing yoghurt to teaching yoga.

To prosper, individuals will need to constantly re-invent themselves throughout their careers. People who will do well are those who have the capability to keep changing, keep learning and develop skills for the future.’ (17)

Or to put it another way:

‘In my kingdom you have to run as fast as you can to stay in the same place.’ (The Red Queen to Alice: Alice in Wonderland.’)

  1. Financial Review, 23 February, 2021

  2. How to stop robots from taking everyone's jobs,

  3. See, The future of the professions, Richard and Daniel Susskind

  4. A world without work, Daniel Susskind

  5. Australia’s automation opportunity, McKinsey, March 2019

  6. Robots threaten jobs less than fearmongers claim, The Economist, 10 April 202

  7. EGM blog, A world without work? Not yet

  8. See for example, the automation imperative, McKinsey, 7 September 2021

  9. How do warehouse workers feel about automation? Harvard Business Review, 11 February 2022

  10. Tyson turns to robot butchers, Wall Street Journal, 9 July 2020

  11. How to stop robots from taking everyone's jobs,

  12. See, US states that voted for Trump most vulnerable to job automation, Financial Times, 23 January, 2019

  13. The rise of the robots, Martin Ford

  14. The rise of the robots, Martin Ford

  15. The future of work, Jacob Morgan

  16. EGM blog, 12 rules for a brilliant career

  17. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari

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