Humans vs robots


What will your job look like in 10-20 years? Will it even exist? And if so, what kind of alternatives will be on offer?

A new report by workforce solutions company Adecco looks at the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on the workplace and at what employers and employees think about it.

Surprisingly, given headlines about robot takeovers and underemployment, the majority said that overall technology had increased the number of jobs available to them and that advances in technology would continue to create more jobs than it destroys over the next decade.

When asked what kind of jobs might come online more than half expected the role of Drone Operator could come into being in the next decade. Other roles suggested included Home Automaton Contractor and Lifestyle Auditor.

They may sound odd, but who would have expected that roles such as blogging, search engine optimisation experts or fact checking services could be advertised even 10 to 20 years ago?

The optimism seen in the report, Humans vs Robots, seems to come from a belief that robots will take up the ‘boring’, more mundane roles, leaving the more fun ones for humans. The report cites, for instance, the world’s first ‘laundry folding robot’ – the Laundroid – and compares it to the arrival of the washing machine. Whether those more fun jobs will make up for the ones lost to automation is, however, up for debate.


What is clear is that the jobs of the future may require different skills. Drone Operators, for instance, would be about controlling, rather than building and, says the report, the skills required may not be too far removed from playing a computer game.

Skills which will become more in demand, it states, are those which are uniquely human, such as creativity and ‘outside of the box’ thinking. It states: “In the future (and in most workplaces already), employers will prize creative thinkers above all else. These are the people who will effectively control the future of our working world – coming up with new concepts; designing ever new and improved machines; finding that perfect harmony between human and robot. These are the roles that people will crave – precisely because they’re creative, and incredibly fun.”

It’s not just creative thinking and other human skills such as empathy that will be important, says the report. Soft skills will also in big demand alongside things like the ability to code.

It says: “To effectively compete with something, you have to be different; stand out; show that you have skills or characteristics that make you essential. On the topic of ‘humans vs. robots’, you do that by delivering what machines can’t: creativity; flexibility; adaptability; communication skills; an ability to take an idea and run with it – thinking outside of the box.”

Alongside human characteristics, however, come human rights and many argue that employment protections are likely to be at the centre of discussions about the workplace of the future, given AI could concentrate more power in the hands employers, meaning an increase in insecure, low-paid work for many.

Different ways of working

The report talks about how technology is opening up different ways of working. Video conferencing and remote working are already gaining traction, says the report, “but fast-forward a decade and they will be more ‘must-have’ than ‘nice to have’”. We’re already seeing, though, that technology and flexible working, if not managed properly, can have a downside, resulting in an ‘always on’ workforce.

Interestingly, most of the people who responded to the survey thought AI would not create related jobs in their company or town. Those who worked in smaller companies were, however, slightly more likely to see how technology can help departments to interact, increase efficiency and produce better reporting.

Most considered manufacturing the industry which will have most use for AI. The report, however, says all sectors can benefit, including the public sector. Professor Peter Donnelly, Marconi Professor of Statistical Science at Oxford University, believes the public sector could use algorithms to help identify where to best focus resources in order to maximise impact and also to identify interventions. The New York fire department is already using machines in this way to identify high risk buildings.

Innovative thinking is needed to embrace the potential of AI, says the report, highlighting projects now taking place in Bristol and Scotland.

It wants to see employers educating themselves about how to guide their workers through the latest technology advances; offering them the means by which to learn new skills so they’re better prepared for a digital era; investigating new ways of working. The rest of us need to learn digital literacy and soft skills and be open to change.

Continuous learning

The report is very much focused on the positive and the immediate future. Could advances in robot technology, for instance, mean robots are eventually able to do some of those things that supposedly make humans unique? Who knows, but for the immediate future AI will mean a huge change in our working lives with more emphasis being placed on continuous learning and developing the kind of entrepreneurial skills that mean we can adapt to what is a period of constant, rapid evolution.

The good news for parents is that a lot of the skills needed are ones they get everyday practice in such as problem-solving. The report says: “Robots don’t understand how to diagnose a problem, or to subsequently work out what the appropriate process should be; in other words, they can’t deal with unique problems. That’s where humans really come into their own.”

*Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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