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The Job Competition We Never Saw Coming

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Many school-leavers will have received their A-level results yesterday, and I vividly remember this time two years ago. The anticipation still haunts me to this day…

For some, they will do what I did and go to University, others will go straight into the job market, and others will start apprenticeships or travel.

In two years I will have finished my degree at the University of Leeds and I will be joining the exodus of job-less graduates. I have been told by many how saturated the job market is at the moment, a constant gut-wrenching reminder of the need for a decent grade and a set of skills.

However, I have been hearing some even worse things recently… not only will I have to compete amongst my fellow graduates in a tough competitive market, I will also be competing against robots.

Or, automated technology to be more precise.

So how will automation actually affect me?

I decided to take a look into this supposed extra competition.

According to the Telegraph, robots have the potential to replace jobs such as train drivers on the London Underground (well, at least robots can’t strike). That technology has actually existed for a while now; the Docklands Light Railway uses it.

Taxi drivers could be put out of a job due to driverless cars. Google’s driverless car, despite looking like it has a face, has successfully driven over 100,000 miles now without crashing.

There were some which didn’t surprise me - lab technicians and scientists who are required to use such minute measures in experimentation would perhaps be replaced by machines to remove any room for human error. The human genome was largely decoded using robotics and computers.

The more surprising on the list were teachers and lecturers. Supposedly the Open University has successfully used television and self-teaching. Elsewhere I found that paralegals and lawyers could also be somewhat at risk, due to software being developed that can review files faster and for a lesser fee than humans.

But is this the real story? Are robotics and automatic technology just going to replace these jobs totally, and leave us to wander the streets?

Not in my opinion. The issue is far less black and white than that.

The Pew Research Internet Report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs' invited many experts in the fields of science, technology, robotics and Artificial Intelligence to comment on this question:

“The economic impact of robotic advances and AI—Self-driving cars, intelligent digital agents that can act for you, and robots are advancing rapidly. Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?”

It was a pretty equal split on how 1,896 experts answered: 48% believed that robots will have significantly displaced workers by 2025, with worries that this would lead to huge income inequality and breakdown of the social order.

On the other hand 52% believed that robots certainly would not displace more jobs that they will create. Both have many interesting arguments as to why they believe in their respective opinions.

Some of the 52% optimists, as I like to think of them, believe that there are certain jobs which only humans have the capacity to do and that technology won’t even have developed enough to significantly alter the job market by 2025. This camp also believes that there will be significantly more jobs created as technology develops.

The other 42% are saying that displacement is already happening. My favourite quotation was from Jerry Michalski, Founder of REX (The Relationship Economy Expedition), “Automation is Voldemort: The terrifying force nobody is willing to name.” (I’m a huge Harry Potter fan).

What I think we really need to understand is that despite the split of opinion, it goes deeper than robots simply taking over the world (despite what Hollywood tells us).

There were several points which the experts agreed on, such as the definition or concept of “work” will shift and change dramatically in the future with technological evolution. They also believe that the current education system is not preparing the likes of my generation for technological development into the future.

The one resounding fact that both groups agreed on was that technology is not destiny. We control our future and how we inhabit it.

What we can do is use technology to help us predict the future. Now that’s an interesting concept - take a look at this video about how Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning is helping us to use historical data to make predictions:

The key with all of this is we need to have a better understanding of how automation can help us; Microsoft Azure Machine Learning is a great example of increasing productivity through technology.

What I have really gleaned from glancing into the future of robotics is that I need not be terrified of the future or my job prospects. Technological advancements are coming, they always will. But it’s about being prepared to learn, and understand the opportunities I will be presented with.

There will always need to be human interference to drive things forward. This is a theme that Duncan Davies also discusses in his blog trilogy 'Technology Doesn’t Replace Talent'.

The opportunities are everywhere – we just need to be able to understand them, and seize upon them.

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