Defining the future of work
Still, some think AI is critical for employment. "AI will define the future of work," says Abdul Razack, SVP and head of big data and analytics at Infosys, who thinks that even in 2016 the pace at which enterprises more widely adopt AI to replace manual, repetitive tasks will rapidly increase.
"We're already seeing enormous investments from companies like Toyota to use AI for more precise decision making, and we'll only see more companies taking this approach to foster higher productivity and business profits, and also streamline responsibility for high-skill jobs," he says. Today, every company has armies of problem-solvers. Tomorrow's key skill will be problem-finding; machines will do the rest.
The creative gap
The tech industry may be helping create demand for new kinds of jobs, but the skills needed just don't exist yet. Jobs site Indeed reports that there's currently an industry-wide shift towards jobs that combine technology and creative skills, with far more job listings than searches for such roles. For example, the role of Application Developer has 47% more postings than searches, Software Developer has 23% more, and UI/UX Designer/Developer/Engineer/Director has 19.5% more.
"We are dealing with a constantly developing job market, largely brought about by advances in technology," says Paul D'Arcy, SVP at Indeed. "Our data points to the future-proofed jobs combining different skill-sets, matching technical knowhow with creativity," he added, calling it a 'missed opportunity' for jobseekers in the UK.
The paradox of tech
"Tech inevitably replaces jobs because usually it is designed to tackle inefficiencies," says Sam Parton, Co-Founder of grassroots sports marketplace OpenPlay, which makes it easier to find and book sports venues and activities. "Most of these inefficiencies tend to be due to administration or people, so the result will be huge reductions in jobs … in some areas this could be catastrophic."
In this context, automation is largely about doing away with the need for paperwork or computer work, and replacing the need for phone calls. As an example, Parton cites UK government agency the DVLA (Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority) in Swansea, South Wales, which currently employs around 5,000 people, but wants to modernise and use technology to streamline the organisation's call centre, which is currently massively over-subscribed.
"The result of that is that 2,500 jobs, mainly in administration, will go in Swansea, and what else are those people going to do?" asks Parton about the effect of the tech industry on employment. "It's a huge paradox and I don't think politicians have truly thought about the impact on local areas like that." The same could apply to other administration-heavy areas, such as the criminal justice system and health.
On the one hand the tech industry delivers everything we ever dreamed of to make our lives easier, while on the other, it threatens to automate workers out of the equation altogether, and to concentrate wealth in a tiny minority.
With the coming era of AI, the pace of change is about to ramp up – and it's up to politicians to organise re-training and skilling-up on a huge scale. The changes the tech industry forces upon society may be inevitable, but they're also far from comfortable.