AI will create more jobs than it destroys

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AI will bring productivity growth that will create demand for work, offsetting the displacement of workers.
AI will bring productivity growth that will create demand for work, offsetting the displacement of workers.

Despite fears that artificial intelligence (AI) will wipe out millions of jobs across the globe, technological advancement is poised to be a job engine that will create more employment than it destroys.

While jobs will be displaced by automation, some technology experts allay fears of robots completely taking over. They suggest the fourth industrial revolution presents both an opportunity and a challenge that will see technology pave the way for shifts in occupations, resulting in the creation of more jobs than it will ravage.

An Accenture report predicts around 5.7 million jobs in SA will be at risk over the next seven years due to technologies like robots, AI and machine learning.

Automation is also expected to have a significant impact on the banking sector job market globally, with two out every three jobs forecast to be taken over by robots, according to Forrester.

The rise of robots is already seeing total transformation in the workplace, with the automation of menial and repetitive tasks being the most obvious change.

However, some experts believe the future of jobs is not as gloomy as perceived, saying the demand for work and workers could increase, as business models change and economies grow.

Vian Chinner, CEO of AI company Xineoh, says the notion that AI will create an ever-growing pool of unemployable humans who cannot compete economically is far-fetched.

"The narrative around AI is often pessimistic, with self-proclaimed pundits predicting countless job losses and other equally woeful outcomes. The fact is that AI has the potential to create many more jobs than it destroys by enabling brand new businesses and business models," he explains.

"AI will see the eruption of many companies, such as on-demand digital platforms like Uber that can have AI-assisted contractors to perform their duties. There will be dozens or even hundreds of these types of companies in the next decade, creating thousands of jobs. AI will provide individuals with the means of performing higher skilled labour."

With the unemployment rate hovering at around the 27%, SA has to desperately find ways to help the unemployed become more economically active by providing more ICT skills training programmes, Chinner advises.

McKinsey Global Institute says as technologies such as AI and robotics generate significant benefits for users, businesses and economies, the demand for workers could increase, partly fuelled by productivity growth.

"Rising incomes and consumption, especially in developing countries, increasing healthcare for aging societies, investment in infrastructure and energy, and other trends will create demand for work that could help offset the displacement of workers. Additional investments such as in infrastructure and construction, beneficial in their own right, could be needed to reduce the risk of job shortages in some advanced economies."

Workforce transitions

However, McKinsey Global Institute warns that between 75 million and 375 million workers (14% of the global workforce) may need to switch occupational categories, with many advanced economies expected to retrain, reskill and redeploy tens of millions of mid-career and middle-age workers.

Kieran Frost, research manager for software in Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC, notes that automation technologies present an opportunity for organisations to upskill and train some of their staff.

"In the short-term, automation is likely to lead to job losses as many of the jobs automated are people-intensive, but as the technology grows in maturity, it is expected to create more jobs than it replaces," notes Frost.

"AI will free up certain people to focus on parts of their job that create additional value; for example, providing innovation in their products or services. With time, new jobs will be created which will be focused on creativity (design work, exploring new business models or new markets and building new relationships), or STEM-focused jobs (data scientists, process-engineers, application testers, designers and developers)."

Frost adds that the skills required to fully enable these technologies are scarce, and local organisations should introduce re-skilling and upskilling programmes "as soon as possible".

According to a report by global human resources firm ManpowerGroup, more employers than ever (87%) plan to increase or maintain their headcount as a result of automation.

"Rather than reducing employment opportunities, organisations are investing in digital, shifting tasks to robots and creating new jobs. At the same time, companies are scaling their upskilling so their human workforce can perform new and complementary roles to those done by machines," it adds.

JP Gownder, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, says automation will transform the workforce, creating over half of the number of jobs it replaces.

"Automation is forecast to displace 24.7 million jobs by 2027. On the flip side, automation will create 14.9 million new jobs in the next decade. This is equivalent to 10% of the workforce. Next-generation management, business and financial jobs will require new skills to look after a workforce comprising a mix of human and robotic workers."

This will result in an expansion in the professional and related duties category, where new and expanded roles will support the automated workforce, he adds.

"Demand for software developers will grow in concert with every type of automation technology, branching into new areas like robotics. Similarly, lawyers will have to interpret and act upon new regulatory frameworks that accommodate cybernetic employees," concludes Gownder.

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