War for the Planet of Humans: Saving our jobs

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

When the Czech writer, Karel Čapek, coined the word “robots” in his play R.U.R. ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ in 1920, he couldn’t have envisaged the radical role these guys were still going to play in defining humans in relation to their workplace.

A McKinsey Global Institute study shows that one-fifth of the global workforce will be affected by automation and artificial intelligence.

Whether you like it or not, we are gradually progressing into the automation age, where robots are beginning to perform routine physical work activities better and more cheaply than we humans, and also able accomplish tasks that involve cognitive capabilities. Those abilities include problem-solving (from simple to complex problems), speech recognition (In a recent test, computers outperformed professional human lip-readers scoring 95 percent accuracy, while humans had a 52 percent accuracy), sensing emotion, driving, etc. These activities were considered sacred and couldn’t be automated successfully some years ago, but here we are now.

The impact of advancement in robotics and automation on workers will vary across all skill and industry levels. In some industries, particularly with less routine work, the impact would be limited for now. In some other industries, workers would work alongside machines to become more productive. And in some other industries, where work is predictable and routine, workers would be forced to retire or learn new skills to function at a higher level in the industry. Workers in industries like manufacturing and retailing -where most disruption has already started would fall into the later category. While activities like collecting and processing data, opening accounts, registering a tax filing which are done across all industries are all subject to automation.

Low-skilled workers have always been the casualties in every major workplace disruptions in history, they are prone to losing their jobs with businesses and organizations looking to make high skilled workers more productive withy automation, but eventually, as technology advances, even middle-skill workers and high-skilled workers would be affected by automation. And that’s because the nature of work, structure of businesses and the basis of competition in industries will be transformed. It goes without saying that everyone should be able to learn new skills to effectively collaborate with machines.

However, this development in the workplace opens opportunities for coaching and training services to build the human part of Man (emotions, creativity, problem-solving etc).

Managers also would have to spend more time organizing activities to ensure the productive collaboration between machines and humans.

Skills that could be in demand?

Obviously, we expect skills that relate closely to technology to be in strong demand. People with such skills will be able to take advantage of new opportunities for independent work and consultancy as the dynamics of business shifts and project work is outsourced by companies.

Workers involved in activities with predictable physical activities involving collecting and analyzing data can seek to acquire new skills in their industries to complement machines that can do their routine jobs faster and better. An example of this is health care workers in Britain, as reported by Deloitte, moving towards “caring” jobs. The consulting firm says the number of nursing assistants increased by 909%, teaching assistants by 580% and care workers by 168%.

Opportunities will be open for people with soft skills like emotional intelligence and social intelligence needed for productive collaboration. These are skills that are unique to humans and would take a considerable number of years before robots can learn and begin to utilize these skills effectively.

How can we get these skills?

Education would be pivotal to everyone in saving their jobs. It would be critical to countries as well. This is where kids who school in underdeveloped and some developing countries might come short due to the reluctance of policy makers in these countries to invest considerably in education. Students must also be made aware of the skills that would complement automation and what activities would be totally wiped out in their industries so that they can make wise career choices early on. Choosing careers and learning skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields is most advisable. Also, the schooling system must begin to put emphasis on creativity, critical and systems thinking ahead of grades and routine activities.

For everyone, there would be a need for the entrepreneurial spirit, that is collaborating to solve new complex problems, agility, creativity, resilience and flexibility to learn new things. This is important for everyone who doesn’t want to be replaced by these tireless, reliable robots.

Just as we humans defined robots first, in the coming years I see robots eventually defining our existence — not in the form of obliterating us, but actually helping us come to the full purpose of who we were created to be, homo sapiens or “wise men.”