19 million employment positions in the U.S. will be automated out of existence in the next 15 years… while employers will create 21 million new roles. So says Ben Pring, director of the I.T. services and consulting firm Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, in a new book titled “What to Do When Machines Do Everything.”
The question becomes – on both ends – what jobs go and what jobs will replace them?
We’ve already seen the massive disruption in retail, and autonomous vehicles are fast approaching, portending a grim future for certain transportation positions. Taxi drivers have already been obliterated by the likes of Uber and Lyft.
For the future jobs, Pring and colleagues suggest titles as esoteric and wide-ranging as “gender diversity officer,” “virtual store Sherpa” and “personal memory curator.” Don’t think so? Then how about lower tech alternatives like “walker-talkers”: contract players (or “gig workers” as they’re commonly known today) who can answer calls to assist and provide companionship for the growing number of the elderly expected in the years ahead.
Robots, artificial intelligence and the march of automation give concern to many that machines will replace people. But to a large extent we’ve been saying that since the industrial revolution replaced agriculture as the chief means of earning a living. In fact, many studies have concluded that these new technologies will create still newer jobs – and in even greater numbers than the ones they replace. To some, it feels like one of those watershed “industrial revolution” (or perhaps, info-data revolution) moments.
Recent efforts to control ‘fake news’ are just one example where AI can do part of the job, but it still takes real live humans to do the hard parts, like making the subtle discernments. Facebook alone is hiring 10,000 such human curators, to manage the sprawl of news bots and fake news creators. It seems that humans will have an active role in building and, especially, running AI tasks for a good while. Just as in retailing, store jobs have been replaced by even more warehouse fulfillment jobs (usually at higher pay), jobs replaced by the various new forms of automation will be replaced by newer forms of work – which means that jobs lost are translated into new– and often better — jobs created.
In fact, according to Vanessa Fuhrmans in an article in the Nov. 16th Wall Street Journal, Pring and colleagues envision jobs that “involve helping companies manage artificial intelligence and automation” with “data detectives,” workers who dig into their firms’ data stockpiles and generate business recommendations. This mirrors the “big data” movement today where companies (including ones right here in South Bend, Indiana) are employing Ph.D.’s and other so-called ‘rocket scientists’ to cleverly mine millions of bytes of computer and other machine-collected data, pawing through for trends that lead to sound business intelligence – and hence, the holy grail of competitive advantage to their owners.
In the end, as Pring concludes, “Work will change, but it won’t go away.” Or as Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Them jobs are goin’ boys and they ain’t comin’ back.”
Ah, but newer jobs will – and the sooner we embrace them, the better for all.