Though technology has altered the employment sector, the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics will change it beyond recognition. University of Oxford researchers are examining the role of technology in the work sector, and what needs to be done so that everyone can benefit. John Maynard Keynes gave a speech in 1930 and said that he envisioned a situation,100 years into the future, where human labor would be replaced by technological processes and automation. He estimated that people would only work for 15 hours per week.
There are many changes that need to be made if this is to be a reality, since it is a possibility. Currently, robotics and artificial intelligence promise there will be machines to take up all human tasks. Digital communication has created a labor force that dwells on the internet, and one that works remotely. Self-employed people have found new technological services such as Airbnb and Uber, both of which are a flexible means to earn a living. However, such phenomena give rise to a myriad of challenges that are hard to decipher and perceive.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see academics at the University of Oxford spending a lot of time trying to understand the future of work. Green-Templeton College and Oxford Martin School have specific programs that pay attention to this topic. The schools have many researchers from departments such as Politics and Economics, Engineering Science, and Sociology. They all try to unravel the mystery that lies in the future of work.
According to Dr Marc Thompson, a director of Green-Templeton College Future of Works Program and a senior fellow in Said Business School, there is a need to bring together various perspectives in the study of work. Further, Thompson says the role of academics is to ask challenging questions, and raise issues to be addressed by the government.
Rise of robots
The University of Oxford did a series of studies in an attempt to understand the impact technology has on employment, putting special focus on how automation and robotics will affect the jobs people do. Michael Osborne, an engineer who creates machine-learning algorithms, admits it is fair to seek to understand why he does economics-related work, yet he is in the engineering department. He says that the technologies and algorithms used in automation, and their effects on employment, are the areas that the University of Oxford excels in. There are many jobs which exist today that are at a risk of being overtaken by artificial intelligence and robotics. Researchers collected data from people working in various departments, and set out to understand which parts of these roles could be replaced. Dishwashers and switchboard operators will certainly be replaced, but magistrates and clergy may not. Osborne came up with an algorithm that could refer to pools of data to help understand the various types of skills common in automation. The software can classify various occupations and skills into the probability of possible automation, or non-automatable.
The jobs that will not easily be automated are the ones that call for physical dexterity, social intelligence or creative intelligence. This is what is called engineering bottlenecks: the limits to technology that make human beings irreplaceable. It is almost possible to have an algorithm that can release many songs, but it will never be possible to make an algorithm produce a hit album. In a similar manner, chat-bots can communicate with users, though they may never successfully negotiate a deal. Moreover, though robots can assemble products in a defined production line, they can never manage to make a cup of coffee. This is because human beings have a wealth of tactical knowledge about traditions, culture, behavior, physical environment and emotions. These abilities cannot be acted upon by a machine.
Even though the bottlenecks are in existence, there are over 47% jobs in the U.S. that are at risk of automation taking over in the next two decades, or less. It is worth noting that the figures state the jobs which are automatable in theory, but not the ones that will eventually be automated. Even though this is a complex point, the analysis does not consider factors that determine whether a job can be done by a machine. Such factors include social acceptance, creation of new jobs and human wage requirements. Be that as it may, it is impossible to ignore the statistics.
As a result of technological advancement, there are many new technologies which have replaced human work, but many people still have jobs. As a matter of fact, researchers at the University of Oxford say that the amount of work people do remains consistent regardless of the changes in technology. According to Jonathan Gershuny, a Director of Center for Time Use Research and a Professor of Sociology, says that humans have three realms of activity: consumption, unpaid work and paid work. Paid work is the activities we do for money such as performing a surgery, writing a book or mining. Unpaid work is the kind of work which you can hire someone to do on your behalf such as gardening, cleaning and cooking. Consumption refers to activities you cannot pay anyone to do for you, such as eating lunch and sleeping. This analysis is important to understand work time - which is the total sum of unpaid and paid work time. According to reliable data, 60 hours per week is the constant work time. This is a little more than a third of the total 168 hours for each week, and a little higher than the 50 hours spent sleeping. Human beings need to work for social reasons, time management and to have a purpose in life. Keynes stated there can be no country with no people; he thought there is no human who would consider not working. Gershuny confirms that people will have to seek new kinds of work so as to keep themselves busy, regardless of whether robots and artificial intelligence take over human jobs.
Dr. Ruth Yeoman, based at Said Business School, says it is hard to ignore the human desire to find meaningful work. Yeoman says the human desire to work is so strong that people even derive positivity in work that is considered by many as poorly paid, of low status or dirty. For instance, hospital cleaners expand the scope of their work in their minds, which enables them to derive maximum satisfaction from it. They do not just clean, but they clean to make a difference in the well-being of patients, and the status of the hospital. This phenomenon enables humans to validate all kinds of work they do, so that it may be viewed as relevant and useful regardless of what it is.
Many researchers do not have confidence in the idea that people can create work for themselves. New industries which have been expected to create new jobs are no longer creating them. The industries many people salivated for, such as data science and web design, are not actually creating new jobs. This is because many of the new jobs are software-related, and not physical. Software development does not require many developers, meaning that only a handful will benefit. For instance, WhatsApp, a messaging service, was bought by Facebook for slightly over $19 billion. At that time, it had over 700 million users, but only 55 employees.
Checking specific jobs may be problematic when it comes to assessing how the lives of people will change. Technology cannot be wished away, and its effects will have to be lived with. Many jobs will be taken up by machines and a lot of previously active positions will be declared redundant. Physical attendance to offices may be phased out, and many people will choose to work from home. Anyone who is not prepared for these changes in work will face serious lifestyle challenges.
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