Female at self-service checkout

AI is not the grim job reaper that many believe it will be

Why we should be embracing the future

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Female at self-service checkout

With technology continuing to advance at such a rapid pace, there are growing concerns that artificial intelligence – or AI – will take jobs once occupied by human beings.

There is little doubt AI will replace roles performed by people though that does not mean we will see unemployment rates skyrocket anytime soon.

For centuries, technology and automation have destroyed jobs while creating new ones at the same time.

A quick trip down memory lane will remind us of the many jobs lost to technology.

A look back in time

Remember the switchboard operator who was required to connect incoming calls, the pinsetters who had to run out at bowling alleys to reset the pins and the projectionists who were responsible for operating film projectors in cinemas before the arrival of the digital age?

There was also the lift operator who had to manually open the elevator doors, the video store employee who would check out movies for a night or a week, the telex machine operator in the pre-internet days and the typist who would sit within a typing pool of employees tapping away.

Beyond living memory, you will discover the now redundant roles of the knocker-upper (a human alarm clock), the town crier (who would walk around the streets screaming out news), the street lamp lighter and the water carrier (no explanation needed).

In more recent times we have started to scan our own shopping at the supermarket and use a screen to place food orders at a restaurant – rather than telling the waiter what we would like.

Robotic takeovers of a growing number of human jobs have been met with a mixture of excitement and hysteria – even though the hysteria is mostly unwarranted.

While many jobs have disappeared, a host of new ones have appeared – and others are fast emerging.

Out with the old, in with the new

Economist David Autor’s study on technology and job categories found that around 60 per cent of employment in 2018 was found in job titles that did not exist eight years earlier.

New jobs that have emerged include the data scientist, cybersecurity guard, social media manager, virtual reality developer and digital marketing specialist.

Emerging careers include the space tourism guide, space mining engineer, virtual reality architect, autonomous transportation specialist and digital currency advisor.

There is little doubt jobs that involve repetitive or routine tasks will be 'robo-booted'.

But jobs that require critical thinking, creativity and human interaction to challenge AI are unlikely to be 'robo-duplicated'.

Put another way, machines will perform an increasing share of boring, rote tasks while people will move to more human work.

Fears that AI will lead to total widespread job loss are grossly exaggerated – AI is likely to create as many jobs as it replaces.

The future of work will require organisations to strike the right balance between human beings and robots.

This will require all of us to embrace the potential of AI to make jobs easier and provide ourselves, our children and our grandchildren with exciting new career opportunities.

In a world of continued job disruption, becoming a robo-phobe is simply not an option.