Machines vs Humans – Future of Jobs

Be it the chatbot that you text for refund when Swiggy delivers the wrong order or the kiosk that produces your boarding pass at the airport, we are finding ourselves in the presence of machines and bots on a daily basis. 

A daunting question that arises in the minds of many workers and employees in this era of automation and AI is – are we going to be replaced?

Cambridge dictionary defines automation as 

  1. The use of machines that operate automatically
  2. The use of machines and computers instead of people to do a job; especially in a factory or office

So the answer to the question is ‘literally’ yes. Progress in AI, robotics, and technology has led every industry to automate, in some form or the other replacing many. 

For instance, in agriculture, we see the growth of machines that can take care of various tasks from the sowing of the seeds to watering, spraying chemicals, and manures to even harvesting. According to an NCCI report, over the last century, the jobs in agriculture have seen a 95% reduction due to automation (from 40% agriculture jobs in 1990 to 2% in 2010). Manufacturing too has felt the perils of automation with almost 1.7 million jobs being lost to industrial robots since 2000 (report by Oxford Economics). 

The advent of online shopping coupled with automation is also rapidly changing the dynamic of retail and impacting the role of retail salespeople. The times when billing is done by humans or store employees suggest the best offers and help you find your favorite snacks are soon changing with a self-service shopping approach. Bingo box a company in China has opened almost 300 unmanned stores in China that work 24×7. Using technology, they have developed a cashless and human-less approach to shopping, where customers can enter the shop, pick up the things they require from the shelves, and walk out. The amount is deducted automatically from their e-wallets using sensors and scanners on the doors which identify the purchased goods.   

With many reports stating that millions of jobs will be lost by 2030, the situation does look bleak. At the same time, many studies are also positive about the rise in employment in specific sectors and the creation of new roles. The World Economic Forum report stated the generation of 133 million new jobs by 2022 and Gartner shared an increase in 2 million AI-related jobs by 2025. 

The questions that arise now are – What kind of roles will now be generated? What skills will the future demand? How do we approach skilling and re-skilling people for the changing nature of work? 

Getting a score of 98% in school might not be indicative of getting a job in the future anymore. According to the WEF Future of Jobs (2018) report, the top skills for the future will be data literacy, critical thinking, adaptability and flexibility, creativity, emotional intelligence, leadership skills, complex decision making, and collaboration. The nature of education and learning structures available currently, hence, need to be revamped to fulfill the upcoming skill requirements. This demands every educator and parent to change their outlook towards learning and skill development as a whole. 

For the present workforce, according to the study by Brookings Institute, embracing growth and technology, and promoting a constant learning mindset in leaders and employees is the only way of facing the imminent world of automation. The study further emphasizes the need to foster uniquely human qualities that can give us an edge over machines and robots. 

It is essential to consider that what is getting automated are the mundane repetitive tasks that keep humans from engaging in creative work and problem-solving. For example, an employee in banking might spend hours going through 6000-8000 entry points to find an account balance and match it to the data entered. For a machine it’s a matter of seconds. Hence, the future urges us to collaborate with technology to push our human capabilities for further growth and development.