(Forbes)— We live in amazing times. Driverless cars, drones delivering packages and chatbots taking our fast food orders. In fact, this entire “thing” of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) is now being called the next industrial revolution. And it does not come without a lot of fear about a large workforce losing its jobs and means of making a living.
When the first industrial revolution hit, factories and mass production drew workers to the cities in droves. Manufacturing put individual craftsmen out of business. Consumers could get products cheaper and faster and that was a good thing. Yes, some workers were obviously displaced. But along with the “revolution,” new jobs were created and, over time, employment reached high levels.
Fears about the new robotic revolution
Of course, technology will eliminate many jobs – it has always done so. And predictions about those job losses range from a few million to over a billion, as a recent MIT study revealed.
Why this variance? Because no one can predict accurately exactly all of the jobs that robots and AI will assume from humans over the next few decades. We just don’t know where the technology will take us.
At the same time, we cannot predict the numbers of new jobs/careers that new technology will create. One study from Gartner Research states that while 1.8 million jobs will be lost by 2020, 2.3 million new ones will be created.
Even today, there are a huge number of technology jobs that did not exist ten years ago: State-of-the-art programming, data science, web security, marketing and sales. There is no reason to believe that the need for humans to create and manage new technology will decrease.
And in developed countries, with comparative salary data readily available for various industries, far fewer people are willing to enter low-paying work force jobs that require no thinking and that do not allow people to have a decent lifestyle. Young people who graduate high school often have vocational-technical skills that allow them to enter the workforce with skills that are needed. Others opt for vocational-technical or community college programs where they learn to use the latest technology.
China is a prime example. Automation, through robotics and AI, has moved China to a major economic force in the global economy. Because of its focus on automation and new technology, China now exports far more than it imports, and as a result, is having a huge impact on the global supply chain.
Smaller countries with less to invest are seeing some negative consequences and they will suffer from the inability to compete. On the other hand, they can take a lesson from countries like India that have moved into areas of technology that are in high demand. There are jobs – the key is the right training of people to work within an environment of robotics and AI.
Humans create and humans control
Robots and AI have been created by humans – they are tools that we can use when we give the right instructions. The point is that humans and technology must work together, humans in control and the technology providing what it is programmed to provide. The idea that technology will replace the need for creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork and initiative is rather silly right now. The idea that humans can leverage technology to provide a better world for all of us is not silly, however. It’s fascinating.
Consider this: One of the industries that have seen the greatest disruption of robotics and AI has been medicine. We now have robotic and AI tools that can perform amazingly accurate diagnoses and precise surgery. Have we lost doctors to this technology? The answer is “no.” Doctors have simply learned to leverage the new technology to provide better healthcare.
Finding your place in a robotic world
Robots and AI will certainly replace jobs – boring, dangerous, and dirty ones mostly. Consider coal mining for example. How many people still want to go down into a mineshaft and dig out coal? How many want to subject themselves to black lung disease and a host of other health problems from that job? This is why coal mining towns are dying out. Young people in these towns are moving on to the brighter job prospects. And technology is taking over what’s left of the mining industry. Green energy is taking over, and with it, a host of new, clean jobs and careers. It’s the march of civilization that will never cease.
Those entering the workforce today will have to be adaptable. What robots can do is make humans more productive than ever before. Workers will need to develop technical skills and keep those skills updated as technology moves forward. Those who do not want to deal with technology need to pursue careers where it is not as much a factor or where demand for human skills and talents remains high.