Robbie Scott on how Artificial Intelligence and automation is shaping the future of work
The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation, once the realm of science fiction, is now an inescapable reality disrupting traditional industries and reshaping the labour market. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology is a prime example of automation in retail. These cashier-less stores, equipped with AI and machine learning, offer a ‘seamless shopping experience’. Customers simply enter an Amazon Fresh store, pick what they want, and leave – their shopping is automatically charged to their online Amazon accounts. While this may enhance convenience, it also raises questions about the impact on employment in the retail sector and the implications of a cashless society.
In the NHS and Education these new technologies could revolutionise patient care by providing accurate and swift diagnoses, streamlining administrative tasks, and improving patient flow. Theoretically at least, this would free up precious time for healthcare professionals, allowing them to focus on delivering personalised care. In Education, AI could personalise learning, adapt to individual learning styles and provide teachers and teaching assistants with valuable insights about student performance. Automation could reduce the ever-increasing administrative burden on teachers, providing them with more time to inspire students around their subject. In both health and education, AI and automation promise not just efficiency but a shift in focus towards a more human touch. Isn’t that something we should relish?
However, the spectre of job displacement is real. McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2030, AI and automation could displace up to 800 million workers globally. This paints an unsettling picture, raising poignant questions about the future of work in an increasingly automated digital world. Worryingly, political parties have precious little to say about it. Former TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady warned, “Without real investment in skills and training, and a say for workers in how technology is used, people’s jobs will increasingly be at risk”. This quote underlines the urgent need to navigate the transition into an automated future with care, prioritising the development and implementation of strategies that protect workers to ensure they aren’t left behind.
But on balance, are we missing the wood for the trees. Instead of succumbing to techno-dystopian alarmism, we should adopt a balanced perspective, understanding that technology is a tool, not a determiner of destiny. Historically, every significant technological advancement, from the Industrial Revolution to the advent of the internet, triggered similar fears. However, each time, technology ended up creating more jobs than it destroyed. It shifted the labour market towards higher-skilled roles, necessitating adaptation and learning but ultimately improved living standards and jobs.
The key issue we face is not job loss, but job transition. Workers need to be equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in this new landscape.