The Future of Jobs: Are Robots and Automation Tools Replacing Humans?
The debate about technological unemployment has been ongoing since the 1930s. Looking at the history of emerging technologies, it is true that robots and automation have replaced human beings in their jobs to a certain extent. According to the International Labour Organization's (ILO) "World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2022" report, the estimated unemployment figures by the end of 2022 will be 207 million due to the pandemic, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and the rise of robots and automation.
However, many new jobs are also emerging on the flipside of technological advancements. According to the World Economic Forum's "The Future of Jobs Report 2020", by 2025, the robot revolution will actually create 97 million new jobs, many of which will be technology-related. This will pose a challenge to companies and industries, as there is expected to be a skills shortage in the future. It is predicted that by 2030, 85 million jobs may go unfilled due to the skills shortage, which, if left unchecked, can result in US$ 8.5 trillion in unrealised annual revenues. Given these statistics, it is clear that governments and companies must prioritise education, training and upskilling the existing workforce.
The extent to which humans will be replaced in the labour market will depend on the type of work and industry. Some jobs have been entirely lost to technology, whilst some have ended up in intelligent augmentation, where humans and automation/robots work together to enhance performance, decision-making and experiences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries and corporations turned to robots and automation to fill in the labour gaps and workforce shortage.
Companies can see great benefits by turning to the latest technologies available to different industries. For example, in Singapore, the manufacturing industry has seen approximately 605 robots installed per 10,000 employees, making for the second-highest number globally. According to a report, companies that adopt future-ready technologies, such as AI and automation systems, witness improved ROIs and see their profitability increase by 5.8% and efficiency by 18.8% compared to their peers and competitors.
Augmented intelligence, which has a projected market value of US$ 121.5 billion by 2030, is expected to create significant business opportunities. While technology has its advantages; it lacks empathy and social intelligence. Intelligence is a by-product of multiple intelligences, such as emotional, social and moral. Therefore, human intervention will always be needed at some stage. For example, looking at the current Tesla vehicles, augmented intelligence is used as the cars are designed to navigate most of the road. However, there are times when human intervention is necessary, such as when the brakes need to be slammed at short notice, especially when a car suddenly pulls into the driving lane.
As the technology revolution and digitalisation era take place, the ideal scenario would be for humans and robots/automation to work hand-in-hand to make work more efficient, as the integration of AI is inevitable. This has brought about the concept of "superteams", where groups of people and intelligent machines work together to solve problems, gain insights, create value and deliver more significant outcomes. This expected collaboration between machines and people aims to achieve a higher level of intelligence that cannot be achieved separately.
However, the way the future pans out will depend on the advancement of the machine learning capabilities of AI. There is still a long way to go for AI to be capable of developing emotional intelligence. Still, from the above examples, it is clear that upskilling is crucial for workers to remain relevant in industry. Therefore, companies and governments must prioritise upskilling and training to prepare workers for the future.
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