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Technological progress has meant jobs have been adjusting over the past 50 years – and things are about to accelerate

November 15, 2014

robot 300Followers of my tweets might notice that I’m a great fan of new technologies and what benefits they can bring to society. For several years, we’ve been entering a new phase of applied technology brought about by various strands converging e.g. GPS, mapping, internet and sensors help create the basis for driverless cars.

What does this mean for future jobs?

A 2013 paper¹ by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, of the University of Oxford, argues that jobs are at high risk of being automated in 47% of the occupational categories into which work is customarily sorted. That includes accountancy, legal work, technical writing and a lot of other white-collar occupations.

They point out as well that if your job is on average salary or below there is a 50% chance it will disappear. For example a taxi driver could be a rarity in many places in 20 years’ time due to driverless cars.

In every industrial revolution, new jobs were created that didn’t exist before. The real issues here are the speed that they need to be created given the speed of technology change and how the specific people who lose the old economy jobs will get new ones.

Tech companies don’t employ that many people and the ones they do employ are not taxi drivers, waiters, call centre people, etc. Business models which make use of new technologies to create jobs for lower skilled workers are urgently needed and that is something I am working on with others. These jobs may look distinctly different from those they replace.

The other issue is that we are in danger of creating a highly unequal society in which technocrats own the capital. This could lead to social unrest and protest.

What might help is that every technology company expands its thinking to not only creating the technology but also creating new businesses and occupations for those jobs that are displaced.

 

¹ The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? C. Frey and M. Osbourne 2013.

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