Technology is supposed to make life easier or at least this was what many people thought when they were asked how the future life of a human being will be with the advances in technology. However, just looking at recent trends in the labor market we can imply that the future could be less of the place many people dreamed of. It is enough to just go into any business and you will quickly see how technology has become an integral part of the working environment.
According to Williams-Gurt, US scientists have warned that the increased use of artificial intelligence in the workplace could cause mass unemployment, rather than increase productivity and efficiency (2016). Moreover, by just comparing the same job five years ago to today, it can easily be seen how technology has change the way we work. Nowadays, whether you are a top-level manager or a simple administrative worker, it is certain that both our lives are impacted by technology that just a few years ago seemed unimageable. Therefore, it is certainly impossible to disregard the huge impact technology has on the labor market and employment trends in modern economy. Computers (AI) influence the labor market by both creating and destroying jobs, but, more than anything, technology is altering the working environment and restructuring the labor market. Meanwhile, recent advances in AI have sparked further the debate on whether humans are at risk of losing their jobs due do further automatization and computerization in the workplace.
Nevertheless, the fear that machines will replace humans and cause massive unemployment is not a recent issue. Actually, it was the famous economist John M. Keynes, who, in 1930, firstly mentioned the concern regarding unemployment caused by machines (Keynes, 1930). Ever since the emergence of industrial machines, people have feared that advanced technology will at some point cause unemployment.
Nonetheless, there are many economists and experts that argue that this would not happen, because people would be able to adjust to the new conditions in the labor market and basically shift from one type of occupation to another over the years (Rogoff, 2012). Until now, technological advances have introduced new tasks and occupations to humans thus balancing its impact on the labor market. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact the recent breakthroughs in AI have increased in number and could actually have severe consequences on the labor market. Moreover, back in 1983, economist W. Leontief, predicted that the pace at which technologies change is so rapid that even newly created industries will not be able to cope with the huge labor supply and many workers unable to adjust will therefore become obsolete (Rogoff, 2012). We can conclude that the effect on the labor market depends highly on the relationship between technological advancement and job creation.
If technological advances outpace the process of job creation, the concern of Leontief, will materialize. Indeed, the impact of computerization on labor market is well documented showing declines in employment around different occupations. According to a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), “around 44 percent of companies that reduced the number of employees after the 2008 crisis did so through automatization” (2011, p.16).
However, which jobs are prone or at risk of being computerized? Analyzing different labor market trends throughout the last decades shows that employment declined mostly in routine intensive occupations- i.e. occupations which mainly required to follow well-defined procedures. Occupations that follow a well-defined and structure process including similar tasks with low variation are at a high risk of computerization because such procedure can be easily codified in algorithms and thus performed by computers (Frey & Osborne, 2013, p.2).
Based on the facts mentioned above, we can conclude that the degree of risk to computerization for a certain occupation depends on the type of task performed and the level of technology available to perform such tasks. When considering the type of task, we distinguish between routine, cognitive, and non-routine tasks that are performed in a job. Meanwhile, technology as such is divided into two main categories; we distinguish between Machine Learning (ML) and Mobile Robotics (MR), which together account for the substitution of labor with machines. According to Frey and Osborne (2013), “computerization in both cognitive and routine tasks is evident, non-routine tasks provide quite a number of obstacles to computerization” (p.4). This can easily be explained through the inconsistency or lack of routine in the in tasks such as selling or driving. Nevertheless, Frey and Osborne (2013) in their study argue that “even non-routine task as truck driving will soon be automated”; drawing upon recent advances in engineering sciences in respect to ML and MR, both integral parts in the process of automating non-routine tasks (p.
4). Task such as driving were thought to not be able to be automated as it was impossible to find a set of rules or procedures, which would enable a machine to correctly perform and respond in different traffic situations. Nevertheless, the case of Google in 2010, where it announced that it had modified several cars to be fully autonomous, showed that complex tasks such as driving are at risk of being computerized (Markoff, 2010). Furthermore, with advances in sensor technology, producers are able to integrate highly advanced sensors into vehicles at a lower cost than ever before (Frey & Osborne, 2013, p.
20-38). According to Frey and Osborne (2013), “advanced sensors will improve the abilities of automated vehicle to monitor its surroundings to degree that exceeds the human abilities making them potentially safer and more effective drives than humans “(p.20).
Meanwhile, drawing upon multiple analysis in respect to computerization, we can argue that the main challenges for computerization in the coming decades center around task that involve certain human attributes such as creativity, social intelligence, and perception (Frey & Osborne, 2013, p.28). These attributes are highly complex and at the current stage almost impossible to replicate through an algorithm as real- time perception and the ability to respond to natural human emotions remains further very difficult. Computerization, has become a global issue, affecting, all countries and all work activities. Machines have already gained an important role in the workplace, but the question is when will we start to see the consequences of computerization? According to a recent study performed by the McKinsey Global Institute (2017), factors such as: “the technical feasibility, the cost of developing and employing new technologies, labor market dynamics, economic benefits, and the social and regulatory acceptance influence the extent to which computerization will impact the labor market and working environment in general” (p.
65). After analyzing the available information, we can conclude that it is difficult to name specific jobs that are at the risk of being computerized as almost all occupation have a certain amount of risk of being automated. Nevertheless, the occupation which involve routine task are at the highest risk of becoming computerized in the coming years; meanwhile, occupations involving tasks the require attributes such as creativity and social intelligence (i.
e. attributes almost impossible to be replicated by AI) have the lowest risk of being computerized.