Automation – is it going to destroy jobs? The answers to that is maybe, but entrepreneurs are the key.
There are umpteen reports out there suggesting that technology is set to destroy jobs – the most widely cited is the Oxford University study from Frey and Osborne from Oxford University, released in 2013.
Their headline finding: 47 per cent of US jobs and 35 per cent of UK jobs are under severe thereat from automation.
The jobs that they felt were the safest require empathy, they cited metal health counsellor as an example of a job unlikely to ever be replaced by machines, and there is a general agreement that jobs such as nursing or caring are safe.
But then, according to CB Insights, even nurses and carers are under threat – AI assistants talking to patients, for example. The report: The State of Automation cites Tom Foley, Director of health solutions, Lenovo saying: “I can say, ‘Hey, Alexa, take my blood pressure,’ and that can be recorded very easily… It gets stored locally and can be sent to the health team. So that involves the whole virtual encounter, the telehealth scenario. You may need to be seen by a doctor, but you do not have to go to the doctor. Virtual care anywhere is a big theme for us.”
More recently a report from Deloitte predicted that 114,000 jobs in the US legal sector will be replaced by machines – so that’s lawyers, under threat.
And finally, we have a survey out today, finding that the majority of British entrepreneurs fear that AI and automation will replace jobs.
There is irony in that finding, because entrepreneurs are the very people who could help ensure that technology creates jobs.
The truth is, there are flaws in the Frey and Osborne study. Their study did not take into account the extra tasks created by robots – a robot may remove a mundane aspect from someone’s workload, but in so doing will create extra tasks.
Nursing is an obvious example, suppose a new technology can help a nurse lift patients more easily, will that mean we need less nurses, or simply enable nurses to focus more on other important activities that might otherwise get neglected?
So existing jobs will be changed, but not as many will be lost as is generally assumed. The classic argument often cited here relates to bank tellers, after the introduction of the ATM, the number of jobs in banks increased, not decreased as might have been expected.
But AI and robotics will create new jobs altogether, too.
It has been estimated that between 2017 and 2027, for every 20 jobs lost, approximately 13 will be created – or so it was stated at a recent conference on AI organised by Cooley.
More promisingly still, according to PwC, AI could boost the UK economy by £232 billion, mainly through boosting consumer demand, by creating greater choice of products, increased personalisation of those products, and making them more affordable over time,
The truth is that it depends.
The tale of the 19th Century, as Dickens pointed out, was of mass poverty, even though industry was revolutionised. We know this for sure, as army records in the century indicated that average height – which correlates with diet during childhood – shrunk for much of the century.
The period 1850 to 1914 saw more innovations than any other period in history, but was promptly followed by a world war and then a great depression – we had to wait until the 1950s and 1960s before we finally saw the kind of economic boom that one might have expected to have resulted from the 19th century industrial revolution.
Technology can create and destroy wealth – and jobs, and indeed social stability. The lesson of history is that in the short term it can have a negative effect and a positive effect in the long term.
The good news is that in the digital era, the time lags are shortening.
The most important men and women today, the ones that really can create the new jobs that apply technology, are entrepreneurs. They can make the difference between AI creating prosperity on a mass scale, or poverty.
That is why they have become so important, and why they need encouraging.
The UK is emerging an entrepreneurial success story – but more needs to be done, and one way to achieve this is to shine the media spotlight on entrepreneurs, their challenges, their failures and of course their successes.
The NatWestGreat British Entrepreneur Awards are currently open for applications, and entrants can apply here