Automation, AI to create, not kill, jobs

Automation, AI to create, not kill, jobs

Change is the only constant in this world. However, with each shift in the road to progress, humans created surroundings that would minimise labour. When one looks back at the greatest inventions of all time, right from fire to bitcoins, humans created something that would 'aid' them and not 'replace' them.

Tractors were created to help in efficient farming, while the manufacturing sector chose assembly lines for better productivity and computers were introduced to assist with digital accuracy. These three examples are now industries on their own that employ a large number of people.

Our society's 'neophobia' - the fear of new things - is back again with the raging wave of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. The talks in town gained more voices when IT layoffs were announced.

As industries such as software, manufacturing and virtual businesses, absorbed the ease of automation in work, people feared increasingly of losing their jobs. This may be true to some extent as a short-term outcome, but over a longer horizon, AI and automation technology will be a net creator of jobs.

Each task that is performed requires a certain skill set; to be a farmer, one has to have the knowledge of the soil, the crops, the seasons, the sowing pattern, regular watering and harvest techniques. Now, automating areas of this task will increase efficiency, which is what AI and automation are here to do, but, does not make the farmer irrelevant. This way, the other skills that a farmer has would be more valuable, economically. Hence, automation will streamline the required skills and to develop the same, will require more people.

This is the situation in many industries such as textile and automobile where the routine tasks are being handled by AI. In the service sector, some of the jobs such as answering a query, routine recommendations and searching for information will be performed by AI.

But those functions such as creativity, personal touch, innovation and critical thinking will still be done by humans. What this implies is upskilling of existing employees and also bringing in new trained entrants as upskilling alone will not be sufficient to fill the gap.

The backbone of AI and automation is Big Data, Internet of things, social media, mobility, and all the major sectors which contribute to the economy such as retail, pharma, agriculture, BFSI, manufacturing and telecom will be adopting the above technologies. Consequently, one can imagine the number of jobs that the above sectors can create considering the government push to digital economy and digitisation.

High-skill jobs

To highlight the theme, here's an example: in Internet of Things (IoT), one connects millions of devices that talk to each other continuously. One can imagine the volume of data this will generate and the type of skills required to analyse and execute decisions quickly. Building IoT solutions creates a number of high-skill jobs.

Coming up with an IoT solution requires developers working in back-end and front-end technologies which include skills in networking, databases, real-time analytics and back-end skills such as application development in Python, Java, JavaScript and so on.

Complex solutions like building smart cities need the above skills. Since speed is a critical factor in IoT skills to develop firmware, a combination of hardware and algorithms in the form of software will be implemented in computer chips.

Future AI and analytics market will be one-third of the global IT market compared to one-tenth now. As per a recent Nasscom report, we need about 1.5 million skilled personnel in AI and automation area in the near future. However, the current gap is already about 30% which will increase over a period of time. To fill this, different stakeholders from corporates, academia, government and other sectors must come together for better ways to collaborate with the technology and find better solutions.

In summary, a few jobs will be redundant but in the long-term, automation and AI, along with supporting technologies like cloud, Big Data, mobility, social media and government initiatives in the digital economy, will be job creators as well. The need of the hour is to arm the future generations with these technologies and skills to make the most of this disruption in all sectors.

The writer is with the IFIM Business School