The year 2000 depicted in Back to the Future and Terminator did not arrive – in 2017 and we are all waiting on a functional hoverboard. Robot wars are, thankfully, confined to sci-fi movies.

Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Mike Osborne predict robots will assume up to 40 per cent of jobs. IBM, ANZ Banking Group and Westpac, have deployed intelligent robots to automate human resources, finance and back office functions.

But other researchers suggest the outlook is not as dire as many suggest.


History repeating

Jeff Borland, University of Melbourne professor and author of the 2017 study Are our jobs being taken by robots?, argues that the rise of robots makes for ‘a sexy story’ (see the study here). He suggests new technology restructuring industries is nothing new.

‘You can’t deny Amazon is changing the way people buy books, you can’t deny Airbnb is changing the way we live – you can’t deny new technologies are changing the way the economy operates.

‘But that has always been the issue with technology,’ Professor Borland said.

Despite exponential technological advances in recent decades, available work has remained stable since the mid-1960s. Recessions and business cycle changes have prompted the most job losses, dwarfing those caused by technology.


[Taken from AFR article – ]


Advances aren’t there yet (nor in the foreseeable future)

Professor Borland is not alone in rejecting the inevitability of a workless future. David Autor, economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contends that tacit skills required for many jobs are too difficult to codify and technology could not adequately replicate them (see his TED talk here). He also highlights the critical nature of social interactions for many roles.


Technology as a helping hand

Fears of robots leaving us jobless have caused some professions to resist technology, even when it can help employees complete their jobs more effectively (see my colleague’s article on technology adoption here).

ANZ spokesperson Simen Munter says technology allows employees in many occupations to assume higher-level tasks by automating repetitive aspects of their roles.

‘It is about smart people working with smart robots,’ he said.

A 2016 KPMG report, Digital Labour: The Next Frontier in Government Transformation, outlined the benefits automation could have for the public sector (see the report findings here).

‘…… automation can allow for greater agility in responding to regulatory change, greater consistency and increased access to data.’

The IT automation market is predicted to increase from $US183 million in 2013 to $US1.98 billion by 2020. Increased automation has also been linked with increased employee engagement and job satisfaction, as workers see their jobs getting ‘better’.


Future jobs

Jobs of the future are difficult to foresee, and therefore new economies created by innovation and technology are often overlooked in predictions. Social media and app development jobs, and obscure jobs like yoga instructors would not have been envisaged twenty or thirty years ago.

Mindfields, a Sydney-based research and advisory firm, released a report predicting a shift to see businesses hiring more professionals who could utilise disruptive technologies to assist with automation, process improvement, governance, mobility, analytics and social media.

‘Technology has always made human life more comfortable and releases human bandwidth for more productive use,’ Mindfields director Mohit Sharma said.