New Research Says Automation May Not Threaten Jobs After All
Contrary to dominant narratives, machines will not be coming for every human’s job anytime soon. In fact, automation may even have a positive effect on unemployment.
In recent years, practically everyone has become familiar with the narrative that automation in the workplace will cost more and more hardworking people their jobs. Indeed, according to a Pew poll, a sizeable majority of Americans are aware of and concerned by automation-based job loss, with 65% of respondents agreeing that robots and/or computers will either “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans in the next 50 years.
However, research conducted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) suggests that such concerns have been blown way out of proportion. A machine workforce that renders humans obsolete may not be a scenario that we, or even our children, will have to prepare for.
Job Churn at an All-Time Low
Drawing from census data compiled by the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, the ITIF study examined occupational trends in the United States from 1850 to 2015. Zeroing in on “job churn” — defined as “new occupations being created while older occupations are destroyed” — ITIF suggests that what we’ve heard about AI-driven job displacement isn’t necessarily borne out by the numbers.
According to the study, job churn within the American workforce was by far highest in the interval between 1850 and 1870, peaking at over 50%. The lowest figures, which hovered around 10%, have all been recorded during the last two decades. Comparatively speaking, job churn over the last 20 years has been a mere 38% of what it was from 1950 to 2000.
Those critical of ITIF’s work might argue that job churn is not the best metric with which to measure the impact of automation-based job loss. For instance, an economy in which human workers must take lower-paying jobs after being replaced by robots and/or computers would register low job churn. But as ITIF’s study points out, the absolute (or gross) job loss totals over the last 15 years are barely over half the totals from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s. What’s more, ITIF claims that “the period from 2010 to 2015 saw approximately six technology-related jobs created for every ten lost.”
Automation Drives Growth Without Increasing Unemployment
The study actually goes further than questioning the supposed negative effects of automation on the U.S. job economy. Its most forceful argument posits that new technologies, automation-related ones included, are in fact critical to keeping unemployment low and fostering comprehensive economic growth.
Automation skeptics only focus on the “first order effects” of workplace automation — namely, a machine replacing a human – and ignore the broader economic outcomes, or “second order effects,” driven by the technologization of business. The money a business saves by automating certain work processes “flows back into the economy either through lower prices, higher wages for the remaining workers, or higher profits.” According to ITIF, all three of these contingencies result in higher overall demand in the marketplace, demand that can only be met by hiring more workers.
Replacing Tasks, Not Jobs
A study on automation, employment, and productivity conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) adds additional nuance to ITIF’s work, arguing that the workplace relationship between humans and machines will be defined more by collaboration than by substitution.
In most situations, MGI explains, robots and/or computers are capable of taking over any number of tasks, but not entire jobs. The study quips, “Even senior executives, after all, have aspects of their job that a robot could do.” MGI, like ITIF, has the numbers to support its claims: By 2055, 60% of all jobs could feasibly have roughly 30% of their constituent tasks handled by a machine, but a paltry 5% of jobs will be fully automated. In other words, automation may well substantially change the way workers do their jobs, but it’s not going to put humans entirely out of work en masse.
Ultimately, such a collaborative state of affairs is exactly what we at Adgorithms hope to achieve with Albert™, a first-of-its-kind fully autonomous artificial intelligence (AI) marketing platform. We are convinced that AI-based automation has the potential to radically change marketing for the better, but we also understand that there are just some tasks that humans are better equipped to execute. With Albert, human marketers remain in full control of all major decisions pertaining to big-picture strategy, creative vision, and ad design. But by unleashing the considerable processing power of a platform like Albert, companies can easily and automatically optimize their ad buying, attribution, and analytics operations.
Just as ITIF and MGI suggest, Albert doesn’t so much replace human marketers as augment their capabilities and guarantee better business outcomes. There is no doubt that new technology can be frightening, but when properly understood and deployed in an atmosphere of collaboration, it can be the engine that drives growth, progress, and even higher-quality jobs for human workers.