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Jack the Robot: the future of work

Dickson Igwe. Photo: VINO
Dickson Igwe

The world of work is changing dramatically.

Now Faith Popcorn has a very interesting job. Faith is a futurist. Faith works full time at predicting future events. And, Faith has predicted that within 20 years, “we will all be working for a number of companies simultaneously, and not for just one large corporation.” In other words the bond between employer and employee strengthened through years of working for one organisation will disappear. Most workers will become free agents.

Then, Saadia Zahidi is head of gender, education, and work system initiative, for the World Economic Forum. In addition to artificial intelligence and robotics, Zahidihas identified a number of drivers of change in the global workplace. These include climate change; a rising middle class in emerging markets; aging populations in Europe and East Asia; and the changing aspirations of women.

Human beings are increasingly dispensable in the workplace today. Machines are doing the things only humans were thought to be capable of doing. Machines are composing original music. Machines are painting original works of art. Computers can beat professional players at complex board games with creative moves.

That is not to say that the 2020s will be a period of unemployment. The next decade will be a period of redeployment. Man and machine will adopt a brand new choreography, in a complex dance between human and robot.

Jobs are increasingly vulnerable to creative computer programmes. However, there are jobs that are less vulnerable. These are jobs that are highly unpredictable: one example, a plumber who is called out in an emergency. Other areas of unemployment, less vulnerable to computers, are those jobs that require complex relationships with people: nurses, healthcare workers, psychiatrists and so on.

In any event, in the 21st Century, the most creative jobs are increasingly vulnerable to computer technology. Artists, scientists, and strategists, in twenty years, will see computers capable of carrying out their roles in the workplace.

A report by Deloitte states that there are tens of thousands of workers in the legal sector who have a high chance of being replaced by computers in the coming years. Robots will take over the repetitive tasks in professions such as law, taxation, and accounting.

Greater routines mean a greater eventuality that automation will replace the worker in the workplace. Telemarketing has a 99% chance of full automation. Jobs that are most at risk are those that are routine, repetitive, and predictable.

Jobs will not vanish. Jobs will simply be redefined by digital technology. However the new creative machines will not take any prisoners. Factory workers, financial advisers, and even flute players, can be replaced by computers.

The Economist John Maynard Keynes stated in the form of prediction in the early 1900s that technology would greatly reduce drudgery and increase prosperity. He was correct. However the extent of change has not been dramatic. In the last 60 years, the only occupation that has been completely eliminated by computers is that of elevator operator. 

So how does the worker computer proof his or her job? George Monibot, a writer on education matters for the UK Guardian has presented a narrative from history to explain this matter. He has described the workplace today as Industrial age. “We are stuck with an industrial workforce, “he has stated. “At present we are stuck with the social engineering of an industrial workforce in a post industrial age.”

Schools are designed to produce a workforce for the 19th Century factory floor. In that culture, workers sit quietly at their benches every day. They behave identically. They produce identical products. They are punished when standards expected are not met.

Learning is stuck in an older age. It has failed to take account of the new digital realities. Monibot has asserted that creativity and innovation must be built into the working culture from early in the learning curve.

Fluid collaboration will be a key skill in the computer age. In fact, In the future, employment will mean being as unlike a computer as possible. The workplace will favor the critical, creative, and socially skilled. Creativity and innovation require an individual with a mind that has been liberated from the drudgery of everyday existence. The human element will be king. Science is the cart.

Learning has to be about soaring beyond our perceived limits. Learning is about discovery. It is using the imagination to better our lives.

Mark Mills and Julio Ottino in a story titled “Innovation in the Algorithm age” have stated that innovation is the key tool for success in the computer age. Innovation breeds business success, economic growth, and job creation.

The roots of innovation and creativity are found in education.

In the computer age what are needed are not coders and engineers, but learners in all disciplines who can integrate technology into everyday life, business, and society.

The new worker must seize opportunities at the intersections of various disciplines. Diversity in education will be key, not conformity. Education will have to focus on the arts and humanities as well as STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math.

Paradoxically, Mills and Ottino describe how the history of Silicon Valley was most positively impacted by innovators who were able to connect the arts and sciences. The humanities were the horse that pulled the science cart. Human creativity ruled at Silicon.

And so it remains, the human element remains supreme, even as computers begin to think and behave like humans.

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6 Responses to “Jack the Robot: the future of work”

  • cay (01/07/2017, 10:05) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
    I with you on this
  • A.I. (01/07/2017, 12:08) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    "Diversity in education will be Key, not conformity. Education will have to focus on the arts and humanities as well as STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math."

    And I will add- and the fundamentals must be taught at an early age to develop the necessary/critical creative and innovative mental capacity to succeed anywhere.

    Igwe- You have renewed my spirit in our capacity to think and vision beyond the unseen. You are a true sage ahead of your time. Thanks for being apart of our community.

  • Freedom! (02/07/2017, 08:53) Like (2) Dislike (1) Reply
    I want yo learn more about local issues
  • 911 (02/07/2017, 10:53) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
    This country has generated monsters of greed who, tragically for the rest of us and for the environment, have seized control.
  • Come on (03/07/2017, 23:17) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    We're in for some very tense times as MVW policy education unfolds.
  • Down Islander (04/07/2017, 08:39) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    I can only imagine what my two preteens will have to endure in time to come, at present our teaching style is based on academics and getting A's and not on critical thinking,good citizens and environmental care takers, we hound our children to get an education to get a job to pay bills and then die. and not to live and enjoy life.


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