Throughout history, cyclical breakthroughs in technology have profoundly altered the world we live in. And each time sweeping transformations in industry, agriculture and economic systems result from the implementation of the latest technology in the world there have been fears that the result would be mass unemployment. However, from the industrial revolution to the internet age, despite sometimes painful readjustments, new employment opportunities have always replaced those that have become obsolete.
The latest wave of technology breakthroughs expected imminently, or already becoming a reality, include self-driving vehicles and AI-powered robotics and software. The result is increasing speculation and fears that a new swathe of jobs that have until now required human input won’t for much longer. A natural question is whether the employment landscape will again readjust or whether we might really be approaching a tipping point in terms of the latest technology in the world replacing human jobs that this time won’t be replaced.
Ultimately, time will tell, but a recent report published by Euronews does provide some heartening evidence of how new technology is opening up employment opportunities rather than diminishing them.
In Faiyum, Southwest of Cairo and one of Egypt’s poorest regions, technology is helping to create jobs. New a solar heat collector technology is helping to improve efficiency at a local camomile farm by speeding up the drying process for the crop. The business becoming more competitive means it is scaling up and creating more regional employment in terms of both positions for unskilled labour and engineers.
Another example of how technology is improving the lives of agricultural workers, rather than robbing them of their livelihoods is provided in the shape of a case study on a Boston start-up called Harvest Automation. The company produces robots that arrange potted plants in the optimal pattern for their growth. This job was previously done manually by human labourers but does the fact that the process can now be automated mean jobs are being lost? Not according to CEO, Charlie Grinnell. He reports that feedback from his company’s clients is that their workers’ time can simply be reallocated to higher level tasks and removes from them the burden of job most consider highly undesirable.
However, there are of course other areas where human roles may become obsolete as a result of robotics and artificial intelligence. The UN’s International Labour Organization has formed a Global Commission on the Future of Work. The Commission is currently working with teams and academics from institutes such as Harvard University and Carnegie Mellow University to assess the impact the latest technology in the world is likely to have on global employment trends.
Guy Ryder, Director-General of the UN’s International Labour Organization accepts that new technology has the power to both create and eliminate jobs but is generally optimistic about how it will shape our wider future:
“…the application of new technologies has the capacity to both create jobs, but also to replace human beings.
These are both realities that we’re going to have to face, as we embark upon what people call the 4th industrial revolution. And if you try to learn from history, look at those first three industrial revolutions, we know that after a period of turbulence and adjustment we actually came out better off than we started – more jobs, better quality jobs, higher standards of living”.
Most experts studying how the latest technology in the world will shape future employment trends take the view that as long as managed correctly, even losing jobs to machines and technology should ultimately be positive. The trick will be in ensuring that the wealth automation creates benefits wider society and not just a handful of multi-billionaires.
Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellow University reflects:
“If we have everything we need – and we do not have to work to subsist, to survive, work becomes a luxury. That may actually be a good thing. Why do we have to work? Why do we have to work 50 hours a week, why can’t we work 10 hours of week? Why can’t we now have time for the arts, for recreation, for enlightenment and knowledge?”
So, while it is hard to predict whether technology advancements will mean less jobs in the future, or just different jobs, hopefully the outlook is bright whichever scenario ultimately becomes reality.