Africa: Thinking Aloud – the Impact of Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Photo: Wikipedia, ASIMO is physically anthropomorphic (file photo)

The fourth industrial revolution has begun and advances in automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are coming fast and furiously. These advances will result in job losses as businesses in many countries incorporate artificial intelligence and/or robotics into their operations to cut costs and improve efficiencies. Some refer to this economic shift as the fourth industrial revolution.
Jobs will be lost, jobs will evolve and this revolution is going to be ageless, it’s going to be classless and it’s going to affect everyone. Major companies are going to employ fewer people to get a lot more done with more precision and better quality.
We have no precedent for the speed or the all-encompassing nature of this disruption. In the past people could move from one kind of routine job to another. But what’s coming means that when one kind of routine job becomes obsolete, robots will also perform those other routine jobs. In his book Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford said, “This time many workers will have to switch from routine, unskilled jobs to non-routine skilled jobs to stay ahead of automation.”
In 2013 a University of Oxford study concluded that nearly half of US jobs were at risk for automation, and a 2015 report by Forrester Research predicted that by 2019, some one-quarter of all job tasks will be off-loaded to software robots, physical robots, or customer self-service automation.
In the automotive and automobiles sector, over 60 per cent of salaried workers in Indonesia and 73 per cent in Thailand face a high risk from robotic automation.
In the electrical and electronics sector, over 60 per cent of salaried workers in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are at high risk from robotic automation.
In the textile, clothing and footwear sectors, 88 per cent of workers in Cambodia, 86 per cent of workers in Vietnam and 64 per cent in Indonesia face job disruption due to body-scanning tech and 3D printing.
Job losses arising from automated vehicles are perhaps the most frequently discussed topic in the press. While 10 years ago many people believed that driverless vehicles were nothing but a pipe dream, today many auto and truck manufacturers are pushing to have fully automated vehicles for sale by 2020 or shortly thereafter. A few companies can already install driverless technology in existing cars and trucks. Estimates are that more than 3 million truck and public delivery driving jobs could be eliminated in the U.S. by these advances.
Scientists and doctors are also using AI to read X-rays, analyse gene mutations, make better use of scientific studies, and enhance doctor’s clinical knowledge beyond their first-hand experience. AI is also being used to identify diabetic retinopathy in patients and study traumatic brain injuries.
Automation potential by industry (in descending order): Accommodation and food services, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Transportation and warehousing, Retail, Mining and Construction.
Jobs at Risk of Automation (in descending order): Receptionists/clerks, Paralegals/legal assistants, Retail salespersons, Taxi drivers/chauffeurs, Security guards, Cooks and fast food, bartenders, Computer programmers, Reporters, Musicians, Lawyers, primary school teachers and Doctors
The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner. And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.
That’s why education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan likes to say: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”
Some are up for that, some not; and many want to but don’t know how, which is why the College Board has reshaped the PSAT and SAT exams to encourage lifelong learning (LLL).
Learning should not stop at school because LLL learning is one of the most effective ways to deal with change, and change is constant, change in our personal lives, change in our work lives, change in our local communities, governance, associations and organisations. Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.
So the tough news is that more will be on you. The good news is that there are emerging systems everywhere to enable anyone to learn at any time.
It’s clear that thriving countries today won’t elect a strongman. They’ll elect leaders who inspire and equip their citizens to be life long learners who can own their own futures.