The possibility of automating a large number of jobs through new technology is a topic I have touched on many times over the past few years. The most advanced summary of this emerging field comes from the Stockholm School of Economics, which has published a report exploring the impact of technology on work in Sweden.
The report shares a perspective with previous works that I believe provides a more realistic analysis of the potential of technology. The authors believe that although technology has considerable potential to automate certain tasks, it is rare for an entire job to be automated.
What’s more, the nature of the work we do is likely to change, replacing the simple tasks with the more complex and creative work that sees man and machine working together.
Pace of automation
The report outlines five factors that are considered key in the speed and scope of automation.
1. Commercial availability
Many of the techniques that hit the press are limited to laboratory conditions, some commercially available. Of course, many are still in the early stages of their development, and it remains to be seen how successful they will be. The differences between technological feasibility and commercial adoption mean that many people fall by the wayside.
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2. Implementation cost
Even with the technology entering the market, the cost of implementation is a factor, as the new technology needs to present a strong use case to upgrade from the current technology.
3. Financial benefits
This use case analysis also examines the economic benefits of implementation. The rhetoric seems too easy because humans are displaced; therefore, technology is more cost-effective. Since a complete alternative is unlikely, it may complicate the financial mobilization a bit, especially when high profits can be reinvested into new areas and thereby create new work.
4. Labor Market Dynamics
The adoption of technology is heavily influenced by the labor market dynamics in an area. In Japan, for example, many employers are turning to technology as a result of the declining workforce of demographic pressures. Similarly, although the risk of automation is high in industries such as food, the low wages of workers have so far ceased to substitute humans for machines.
5. Social, legal and moral acceptance
The final aspect concerns the social, legal, and ethical acceptance of autonomous technology. This can be one of the most important factors in determining the speed of change. The legal pace of change is usually much slower than technological change and social attitudes are equally slow to adopt. Although it is technically and financially ready, it can add years to the roll-out of any new technology.
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Most analyzes about the future of work and the impact of technology can provide in-depth predictions with much higher expectations. If history teaches us anything, it is that we should take such methods with a pinch of salt. This paper provides a timely reminder of some of the issues affecting the adoption of new technologies in the coming years.