But will the machines take our jobs?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the exponential growth of automation and digitisation continues to raise the question of how it will impact the workplace, and in particular joblessness as certain roles become redundant.

South Africa’s banks are embroiled in a war with unions, who have threatened mass strikes in recent weeks, amid concerns that the industry has cut too many jobs, while also closing numerous branches as they look digitise their services.

Many other industries face the same issue as they look to adopt new technology.

Speaking at a round-table event at the SAS Analytics Experience 2019 in Milan this week, Desan Naidoo, vice-president of Africa at SAS, said that roles will evolve within the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “I see it as jobs evolving,” Naidoo said, adding that while tier of jobs may be lost to machines, “they will be used to enhance roles as well”.

“Roles will evolve, and so will people evolve to fill a new spectrum of jobs,” Naidoo said.

In an article entitled: “Artificial intelligence could create more jobs”, financial services firm Investec noted that while machines will take many jobs, artificial intelligence is creating the emergence of new types of work we haven’t even dreamed of, which will outweigh the job losses.

Citing James Manyika, chairperson and director of the McKinsey Global Institute, Investec said that past waves of technological change have resulted in job losses, but net job gains have been far greater.

What’s different about the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that never before has technology replaced cognitive skills. That makes the issue of the future of work a compelling question.

McKinsey supports the view that AI promises a new growth surge. Manyika’s view is that there will be “more jobs, but of a different type”.

“Jobs grow because the economy is growing, and many of those jobs will be highly skilled. But there will also be a high demand for jobs that are hard to automate, many of which are low-skilled jobs.”

And it isn’t just highly skilled jobs that will be created. Low-skilled jobs that are hard to automate will thrive, Manyika said.

He said that it is difficult to automate a job that involves physical work in an unstructured environment; for instance, gardening, hairdressing and care work.

Highly skilled jobs that are easy to automate, such as accounting and data analysis, are most at risk of losing ground to machine learning.

From Airbnb agents to bitcoin traders, every decade in most economies, developed and developing, has “about 10% of occupations that did not exist in the previous decade”, Manyika said.

Naidoo said that SAS is in early level discussions with government around technology and its role as a job facilitator. SAS has a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyse and report on data to aid in decision-making. “There needs to be a discussion around education,” he said.

Industries are being challenged right now because of digital transformation. “Organisations need to look at how they reinvent themselves. They need to adopt a start-up mentality,” Naidoo said.

Read: SAS talks digital transformation and targets open source

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But will the machines take our jobs?