Think about the coal miners, steelworkers, and others who feel changing times have left them behind. They could have a lot of company sooner than many people realize, including service-sector and white-collar workers affected not by the Industrial Revolution but by automation and the advance of technology. Your job, as you know it, may not necessarily disappear but will surely change, maybe for the better.
I have written elsewhere about what we can do to mitigate the impact of these changes on society: the 4 Rs: RETHINK what we value as a society, RETRAIN people continually through their lives, REDUCE the workweek rather than workers, and REDISTRIBUTE the gains from the tech age. But here I am focusing on the scope and pace at which automation and artificial intelligence are replacing what we currently think of as work.
The disappearance of the jobs our economy currently values with wages and salaries is far from a slow-motion trend or distant concern. While the percentage of work that can be automated varies from one business sector to the next, an overview of consultants’ studies shows it will be in rough proportion to the years in our current century: about 30 percent by 2030, 50 percent by 2050, and so on.
The food-service sector provides a familiar example of the impact of automation. Today many restaurants let me book my reservation or pay for my meal with a smartphone app, some let me send my order online straight to the kitchen, and it’s easy to envision machines that will make human servers obsolete. Five years ago the industry was discussing investing more in automation. Now it’s happening—for example $6 billion just at McDonald’s.
Artificial intelligence is also having a significant impact on white-collar workers who may have thought their jobs were safe. People who handle back-office functions such as processing invoices must become aware of the impact of robotic processor automation. For example, the CEO of Citigroup, which employs 209,000 people worldwide, predicted that AI will supplant tens of thousands of the financial services company’s U.S. call center jobs by handling the more routine interactions. Broadly speaking, if work doesn’t need empathy, creativity, or judgment, then it will increasingly be done by machines.
As we are at a strong point in the economic cycle, surely now is the right time to look at the kinds of jobs we are creating to make sure both their quantity and quality will improve society as we move through this huge upheaval. We cannot allow half of the workforce to get left behind by these changes. We can give people time back and have them working in the community or retraining themselves. The first step is to learn about the Tech Revolution and prepare yourself to make the most of it. Learn more by checking out my book today, Startups & The Tech Revolution.
First featured on ForbesBooks.com