How to be a Thought Leader on the 'Future of Work'
Have you been seeing a lot of articles recently on the future of work? Seems like everyone's got an opinion, from journalists to startup founders. Unfortunately most of the writing is lazy and a lot of the material gets recycled. So I thought I'd help! This generic article should cover most of it, and means you don't have to read any more opinion articles on this subject for the next few months. Feel free to copy, edit, plagiarise and repost here on LinkedIn as your own work, or use it for the company blog.
The robots are coming
Improved power systems, new materials, advances in computing, manufacturing and new, better algorithms are making robots faster, stronger, cheaper, and more perceptive. That means they can carry out new and increasingly complex tasks. It's not just the robots, the bots are coming too. Artificial intelligence is now able to perform tasks like visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. The future has arrived (you may want to put in a high resolution photograph of a robot at this point, like the one below. The creepier the better, and remember blue colours work best).
All the things are going to be automated
It's happening fast. Foxconn, the Chinese company that makes iPhones, has already replaced half its workforce. Amazon relies on robots to do a significant chunk of its warehouse work. Big retail outlets and grocery stories are rapidly increasing their use of self-service checkouts. Law jobs are disappearing as programmers design code that can sift through paper and digital documents. Low-level accounting is being eaten by software. So is basic writing: Bloomberg already uses bots to write company earnings reports. Computers are better stock traders than humans. Autonomous vehicles will upend the trucking industry, and then the entire car industry (all the trucking examples btw, are ripped off from this 2015 article by Scott Santens). Soon, automated medical diagnosis will replace doctors in fields such as radiology, dermatology and pathology.
We should all be very worried
In the US, 88% of the jobs that were lost in the last decade were taken by robots (insert opinion about Donald Trump/globalization here). If your job involves repetitive tasks you might want to start paying attention. It will happen to the least educated first and fastest, hitting drivers, waiters, factory workers and office administrators. That's going to hurt. A 2013 Oxford University study found that 47% of jobs in America are at high risk of being automated (don't forget to mention this study, everyone else does). In the UK, Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, has estimated that up to 15 million jobs could be automated, and in Australia more than five million jobs are on the chopping block too. Developing countries have an even bigger problem since automation eats into their low-cost labor advantage. Up to two thirds of occupations in China, Africa and Latin America may be at risk.
However, it's not as simple as it seems
(This is the part where you show your sophisticated thinking).
A lot of these statistics overestimate potential job losses because they assume that whole occupations get displaced, rather than specific tasks within them. If you examine tasks rather than occupations, it turns out that only nine percent of American jobs and 10 percent of British ones are especially susceptible to automation. We also forget that highly vulnerable occupations such as accountancy or medicine involve crucial social interactions. Computers might be able to do the job, but people still prefer interacting with other people.
Automation has upsides too
New technologies create more work. Amazon might be using more robots, but they're also planning to create 100,000 new jobs in the next 18 months. As Joseph Schumpeter argued 75 years ago, innovation is a process of creative destruction (this is the part where all you blood-sucking capitalists get to strut your stuff). It's much easier to imagine which jobs might be lost than to imagine the ones that will be created. Remember, this has all happened before. Farmers were replaced by machinery and they became manufacturers. Manufacturers were replaced by automated assembly lines and they went on to become computer engineers. In 1900 you might have predicted the end of farming jobs but you wouldn't have foreseen new occupations like flight attendants or speech therapists. In 2000 you probably wouldn't have predicted that the fastest growing job in the United States today would be a wind technician.
We need to look after those who are most vulnerable
The process of replacing one occupation with another is slow, and society needs time to adjust to a change in required skill sets (bleeding heart progressives and leftie snowflakes - your turn now). The problem is that for the millions of individuals who have suddenly lost their jobs, this is bad. As a society we are not good at helping those people retrain. Instead we leave them to rust. And that's a big political problem. If we are going to successfully manage this transition we need to have a big societal conversation to make sure people can retrain, and make a decent living income while doing it (cue all the basic income bros).
Automation is coming whether we like it or not. It's a key feature of the next economy. Complaining doesn't stop it. Nor does writing an article. Get organised, invest in new skills and prepare for change.