Are robots coming for our jobs?
The growth of robotics will transform customer service, transportation, education and medicine
From self-driving taxis, to drones delivering fast food, it seems like everything is becoming automated. Convenient? Definitely. But at what cost?
A new Forrester research report predicts that in just five years, robots will steal six per cent of U.S. jobs, forecasting that "a disruptive tidal wave will begin" by 2021. It predicts the biggest impact will occur in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services.
Uber is currently testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Select Lowe's stores are starting to roll out customer service robots that will help you find your way around the big box outlets, and Google and Chipotle are testing drone delivery of burritos at Virginia Tech.
Then there are all of our virtual assistants: Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are the big names, but there's also a whole new generation of chatbots being integrated into all sorts of applications and tools to help with travel plans, booking meetings, finding directions.
Change happens fast. Technology advances exponentially, not at a steady linear pace. So while we may still get frustrated when Siri is buggy or unresponsive, in five years these technologies are going to be much better at handling complex decisions and scenarios — in some cases, even better than us.
Ajantha Ganeshalingam, founder of Wiser Investment, a Toronto-based startup that built a financial robo-adviser platform to help investors, says, "The speed of data processing, insights and analysis that can be automated is more than can be done by an adviser. More importantly, it will make it affordable for the masses."
There is a debate as to what impact robots will have on jobs and the economy. Some say technology is destroying jobs, where others say it is creating opportunities to think about work in a new way. At the heart of that debate is the question of whether robots will replace humans, or complement us in the work force.
There is no doubt that a lot of the jobs that have been done by humans up to now, will be supplanted by robots or automated systems. But with every era, as our technologies have evolved, so has our relationship to work.
John Havens, author of Heartificial Intelligence: Embracing our Humanity to Maximize Machines, points out that instead of fear-mongering, what we need to be doing is figuring out how to best manage this period of transition.
Managing the transition
So how do we prepare? When it comes to identifying the skills necessary to stay competitive in a quickly changing world, one of the biggest challenges we currently face is that we don't know what we don't know.
The Future of Jobs report cites an estimate that 65 per cent of children entering primary schools today "will ultimately work in new job types and functions that currently don't yet exist."
Skills in the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — are priorities, but we're also going to see an increased demand for people with cognitive abilities such as problem solving and creativity.
The Future of Jobs report says "many formerly purely technical occupations are expected to show a new demand for creative and interpersonal skills."
John Havens agrees, saying, "Emotional well-being and people-to-people oriented interactions" are top amongst the skills we should be developing.
"Soon the rarity of data or machine influenced interactions will make our core human traits more precious than ever before."