By Mia Casey
Well it’s happening: the robots are here, and they’re taking over. New technologies including AI and automation are set to increasingly disrupt current workplaces over the coming years, with the technology becoming the norm in the coming decades. For students, this raises issues in career planning and education objectives, as automation is set to take over many of the tasks they are currently studying to be proficient in.
But before you start preparing to welcome your new robot overlords (or bosses, as the case may be), it’s important to understand the extent of the projected impact AI and automation will likely have on our society’s workforce.
So what is AI?
Very basically speaking, AI is a highly intelligent computer system that can use data to learn, evolve, and complete tasks. Speaking to ABC News, Mary-Anne Williams (professor of social robotics at UTS) has said that ‘An intelligent computer system could be as simple as a program that plays chess or as complex as a driverless car’.
The term was originally introduced by math professor, John McCarthy, in the 1950s, when he proposed a project that would investigate the idea that intelligence and learning can be described so that a machine can be programmed to ‘simulate it’.
We have now reached the point where AI is incorporated into our daily lives – our phones alone contain AI technology. This is a trend that is only increasing in pervasiveness.
Interested in testing just how much you know about AI? Check out this quiz.
How is this AI technology currently being implemented in the workplace?
The recruitment process, particularly in larger companies, is quickly incorporating AI technology to screen candidates. Just recently, McDonalds made the news for using Snapchat in their pre-interview process in order to screen potential employees. The candidates used the Snapchat app to film themselves for 10 seconds with the McDonalds uniform filter, delivering their elevator pitch with superimposed McDonalds hat and name badge. The campaign was entitled ‘Snaplications’.
KPMG has also been reported as incorporating a ‘robot recruiter’ into their hiring process. Applicants interact with ‘a completely automated system’ during initial screenings, where they are tested with ‘anything from computer shooter-style games to balloons that pop up with math questions on screen’ (ABC News).
While it is unclear whether such recruitment practices have had a positive or negative impact on those trying to enter the workforce, some issues have been noted. In particular, pre-interview videos may make applicants vulnerable to discrimination based on appearance, or leave less technologically-able people at a disadvantage.
What jobs are more susceptible to AI takeover?
Many of the more manual jobs where work is repetitive and can be undertaken without special training or degree-level qualifications may be at risk. This is particularly true of work that does not utilise innate human qualities such as creativity, emotional intelligence, or empathy. As Evlin and O’Neill noted: ‘about one third of the workforce, including construction workers and machine operators, spend an average of 70 per cent of their time on automatable tasks. They may need to find new jobs.’
Indeed, by 2030 it is estimated that ‘machines will take over two hours a week of the most repetitive manual tasks’ (ABC News), impacting almost every job. Jan Owen, chief executive of the Foundation for Young Australians, has warned that ’44 per cent of jobs… will be automated in the next 10 years’.
The legal industry is one field that has already begun to feel the impact of automation and AI, with new companies and websites offering consumers a more affordable way to access legal services. The Plexus platform, which helps companies with contract work, is one such example. ‘The huge amount of work that is done in law firms is frankly not interesting and lawyers are very talented and intelligent people,’ the CEO of Plexus has noted, highlighting the benefits of new technology replacing the more menial legal tasks often required in a legal career.
ABC News featured another ‘law robot’ recently, when they pitted a law student against a robot and tasking them with solving a legal problem in the shortest amount of time.
That being said, some businesses have already started incorporating AI into their workplace, and it has actually increased its number of human employees (yes, the ‘human’ needs to be specified). This happened for Smart Steel Solutions, where jobs were able to be brought back ‘onshore’ (after being sent overseas to save costs). Plus, robotics has ‘more than halved the time it takes to produce a tonne of fabricated steel and the number of employees has risen from three to nine’.
(Interested in learning about whether your job is susceptible to an AI takeover? Check out the ABC’s database.)
Which members of society are most at risk of job automation?
Students who are currently studying are already expected to have a number of jobs (and even careers) throughout their lives, and are likely to be vastly impacted by AI and automation, with our current education system not keeping up with the rate of technological advancement. Jan Owen from the Foundation for Young Australians has stated that ‘Nearly 60 per cent [of students] at university and nearly 70 per cent at TAFE were studying jobs that will be automated’.
Jobs and industries that are largely male-dominated are also more susceptible to automation: ‘There are about 2 million Australian men working in jobs where more than half of the job is at risk of automation. That compares with about 750,000 women in such roles’. These include careers that are low paying, and dominated by manual labour or machine operation.
Roles that require characteristics including creativity, caregiving, or communication are less likely to be automated, and are more commonly required in female-dominated positions. As Hugh Durrant-Whyte from the Centre for Translational Data Science at the University of Sydney has noted: ‘Women are strongly represented in roles that involve social empathy, interpersonal skills, and creativity’.
In previous generations, industries including manufacturing and agriculture have succumbed to automated technologies. However, this renewed interest in AI technology means that middle class jobs are increasingly being impacted by automation, making this a topic of greater media attention.
Which industries are the safest from AI integration?
As noted above, roles and industries that place a high value on the ‘human touch’ (traits including communication, empathy, caregiving, and creativity) are less likely to be replaced by technology. This holds true for industries including nursing and more creative industries.
The growth in AI has also seen the rise of new industries, offering promising job prospects into the future. Cyber security, for example, is seeing a huge growth in job offerings, which is expected to rise into the future. According to Dr Haskell-Dowland: ‘There is now a massive demand for cyber graduates; the demand is outstripping supply… It is predicted that by about 2021 there are going to be about 3.5 million unfilled jobs worldwide’.
Some of the other jobs that have the least amount of automatable tasks include: Engineering Professionals, Real Estate Agents, Social and Welfare Professionals, and Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.