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Fears of jobless growth recede as markets demand new human skills
Dateline: 17 June 2023
The prophets of doom have been hard at work for the past decade, telling us that automation, robotics and machine learning are going to destroy jobs and leave millions of people unemployed and destitute. The reality has been somewhat different!
Yes, some jobs have been taken over by the machines. But they're the dirty and dangerous jobs that most people did not want to do. Who wants to be a farm labourer or a production-line worker?
It also true that many higher-level jobs have changed. AI systems now handle legal research, basic architectural design and much medical diagnosis. But this has enabled people to move themselves up the value-chain. Human empathy, curiosity and innovation remain beyond the reach of the machines.
A slew of new jobs has emerged. Just as web developers and social media managers were unheard of in the 1980s, so the marketplace has demanded new skills, from personalized health workers to remote controlled vehicle operators and customer experience experts. The care, creative, technology and business service sectors are booming.
The biggest change has been in the nature of work. Augmentation is the name of the game. High-skill activities like surgery, for example, are now delivered much more effectively through a powerful combination of human judgement and machine processing capacity and speed.
With robotic, 3D and 4D manufacturing in full swing, many companies have refocused their attention on services - and no-one, or nothing, is better at delivering service than motivated human beings.
The overall result is dramatically improved productivity in virtually every sphere. We've all benefited, but none more so than the poor, through access to cheaper goods and services. It's a race with, not against, the machines.
Published 17 March 2017
Hazardous Thinking At Work
Despite appearances to the contrary, FutureWorld cannot and does not predict the future. Our MindBullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright FutureWorld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer. Image credit Thinkstock.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
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Steve Rogers   Education
I believe there is a major hole in the argument of increased employment: the human race moving up the job food chain. This assumes that people have the resources to move up the job food chain.

There are millions who live in poverty with no hope of an education to move up the food chain. People might not want to be farm workers or production line workers but they have no choice. The majority of the world is a mess of corrupt politicians, inappropriate socialism and pockets of business excellence isolated from the social environment in which they operate.

In South Africa for example, 17m people depend on social grants which provide nothing more than basic expenses. When you consider South Africa has about 53m citizens, it means a 3rd of the citizens are living hand to mouth. They have no luxury of developing the capabilities to move up the job food chain. They subsist, made worse by a government that doesn't care.

This is a social time bomb in the third world and increasingly in the 1st world with refugees pouring into different parts of the first world. Local conflicts generated by religion, race etc are leading to a class of people who are excluded from the mainstream. This is a dangerous phenomenon which needs addressing directly by governments and big business. Unfortunately, from my experience, government and big business is concerned about making money for themselves and expressing lots of empty platitudes about the poor, the unemployed and the unemployable.

Posted: 17 March 2017 at 10:33 Delete Reply to this comment
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Doug Vining   Education
Thanks for your comments Steve, which are very pertinent. History shows us that technology always seems to generate greater prosperity in the end, but this time we are facing exponential growth in automation and new ways of working. It may well be that societies will have to support some sort of universal basic income for those who are displaced, or perhaps Bill Gates's idea of taxing the robots (or their owners) will provide a solution. The future is bound to surprise us; we can expect disruption and upheaval, and possibly a new type of society will emerge.

Posted: 17 March 2017 at 12:28 Delete Reply to this comment
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Doug Vining   Fallacies of the robopocalypse
Futurist Thomas Frey recently wrote this opinion piece that supports our fundamental position that robots and automation, by themselves, do not destroy jobs. Often, technology creates new jobs. Thomas makes an important point: Robots don’t eliminate jobs, only tasks. His 14 Fallacies make an interesting contribution to the debate.
A FuturesForum post (titled: "Fallacies of the robopocalypse") refers to this MindBullet. The full FuturesForum post can be read here:

Posted: 23 March 2017 at 10:50 Delete Reply to this comment
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