Hey, Robots, You Can Do the Filing
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we’re unleashing a new wave of jobs that most of us haven’t even thought of.
By Neil Parmar
OZY and Predix from GE — the cloud-based development platform built for industry — have partnered to bring you an inside look at the future of digital industries, where people, data and productivity meet.
To some, this sounds like the beginning of humanity’s end: Scientists race to create innovative robots while researchers build out artificial-intelligence platforms and complex algorithms that many fear could soon make our jobs obsolete. But some experts believe our forthcoming high-tech offspring could actually be a golden ticket for the good life.
Just imagine island hopping in Croatia while a robot, equipped with image-recognition software and natural language-processing abilities, fills in for you at the office — with periodic check-ins through your pair of virtual reality glasses. Sure, we might be getting ahead of ourselves here, though experts predict that high-tech gains across corporate America will make seemingly mundane jobs more interesting, while enriching our near future and making some jobs safer by getting into dangerous spots that humans just shouldn’t be entering. Already, high-tech gains have helped drive an increase in productivity:
Folks in the U.S. business sector worked the same number of hours in 1998 as in 2013, while companies boosted their output by 40 percent, says Shawn Sprague, economist for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A wave of technological advancement that let many of us do things faster — and more safely — with fewer workers assisted in these gains, and Sprague says this kind of productivity surge is “the economic factor that has the potential to lead to improved living standards for an economy.” Other experts agree. Serial entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply, believes the A.I. revolution will ultimately generate new kinds of jobs and increase society’s overall wealth. “In the longer run,” he’s previously told OZY, “I’m reasonably confident we’ll be better off.” Another benefit, argues Joel Mokyr, an economics and history professor at Northwestern University, is that many boring jobs will be eliminated. “I say good riddance,” he adds. Think certain administrative gigs that require lots of paper pushing and filing (sorry, office assistants!) or service jobs focused on taking people’s orders, which is already starting to happen at certain fast-food joints.
Other jobs will also get mechanized, though Mokyr says roles that lean on human intelligence will be “upgraded” to a more interesting level as they increasingly involve dealing with other individuals. Consider those savvy office assistants who’ve moved away from just old-school data-inputting toward, say, corporate event planning or identifying charitable-giving opportunities. As human-centric jobs become more satisfying and engaging, that, coupled with high-tech solutions doing a lot more of the heavy lifting, could unleash a new era of productivity, experts say.
Before we welcome a new species of futuristic rock-star employees into the workplace, though, experts warn we’ll have some rewiring to do: rewriting labor laws, job descriptions and workplace etiquette rules. Then there are the metrics for the ways in which we measure aspects of labor productivity. For example, the government uses so-called national income accounting to measure the level of a country’s economic activity in a specific time period, which was designed back in the ’40s for a wheat and steel kind of economy. “Well, we don’t have a wheat and steel economy anymore; we have an information technology and knowledge economy,” Mokyr says. Sound like a rather dull series of jobs having to make all these fixes? Maybe someone could give at least some of these jobs to the robots.
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- Neil Parmar