The coronavirus pandemic has caused many changes in the world around us. According to experts, the advent of COVID-19 has changed consumer preferences and is opening up opportunities for automation. Therefore, it's inevitable that artificial intelligence and physical robotics will gain momentum in the coming years.
With it comes an increasing concern that automation will send the workforce into a spin, displacing jobs and rendering traditional skills useless. Yet, as one door shuts another opens. So instead of worrying about the future, here’s how you can refine and develop your skills to seize new opportunities.
What is automation?
Simply put, automation makes something operate by itself whether that’s a process, a system or machinery. Today it’s often used for technology that controls and monitors the production and delivery of goods and services. Think Amazon, which now has over 100,000 robots picking items in its global warehouses.
Two buzzwords commonly used alongside automation are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Umbrella terms referring to the creation of machines or products that work and react like humans. AI is already widely used and integrated into things that surround us. From Alexa and Siri learning how to respond to Netflix predicting your preferences, to chat-bots helping you create bookings. These are the things that clearly show how machine learning has evolved.
Is there a threat to jobs?
There's a lot of chatter around the threat of automation. From the displacement of jobs to ethical dilemmas such as the use of AI in self-driving cars. How can a computer be programmed to make the right decision in a dangerous situation? Won't humans become redundant? Will the robots take over? While these are all valid questions, these aren't the only dangers that exist.
Since January, different countries in the world have gone under complete lockdown. The biggest one happened in India, with the entire economy coming to a halt. The coronavirus has made everyone aware of the fact that disruptions can occur, anytime, anywhere. Therefore, it's essential to widen your horizon.
Amidst this impending threat or fear, lies an opportunity! While it's indisputable that machines will supplant some manual tasks, only about 5% of occupations are capable of being fully automated. Those perhaps most at risk include physical activity such as operating machinery and also those involved in the collection and processing of data. However, some skills are indispensable, such as:
- Project management
- Relationship management
- Soft skills such as communication and leadership skills
- Technical skills
What opportunities does automation offer?
One of the brilliant benefits of automation tools is that they have the potential to relieve many of those pesky administrative tasks that seem to occupy so much time. Productivity and efficiency will get a satisfactory boost when those tasks are automated. In fact, automation alone may raise productivity as much as 1.4%. By way of example, consider the digital marketing industry where the ability to mine swathes of data enables marketers to personalise and optimise their outreach to thousands of consumers in an instant.
Moreover, the entire world is coming to realise the benefits of having robots around. With COVID-19 impacting the health of human beings, machines are helping to create safe environments. America's biggest retailer, Walmart, is utilising robots to scrub and sanitise floors. Similarly, McDonald's has been testing the efficiency of robots as cooks and servers. Robots are already helping doctors treat COVID-19 patients in India. Milagrow, India's leading robotics brand for consumer and commercial robots, made news a couple of months ago when its first hospital humanoid ELF was deployed in the advanced COVID-19 ward at AIIMS. To understand in-depth on how the symbiotic relationship between man and machine will play out, watch our Masters Speak session:
AI is also being used to link datasets to help find a viable vaccine against COVID-19. According to an expert, artificial intelligence is being used to make correlations and to evaluate billions of small molecules. Both of which would otherwise take decades to finish or never be possible, to begin with.
Can AI create new jobs?
While automation will replace some jobs, it will also create plenty more. An obvious one is in technology! Skills in Information Technology and Programming will continue to be sought after. It's easy to forget that just two decades ago sectors such as the app industry didn't exist but now employs 12 million people. McKinsey forecasts as many as 10% of jobs by 2030 will be in areas that do not exist today.
It's also important to remember that machines have their limitations, and some skills are better performed by humans. This includes skills such as social and emotional intelligence, creativity and reasoning. These skills aren't as easy to teach to robots in the same capacity as humans, to whom these come naturally. Such skills are therefore likely to increase in value, so workers of the future may spend more time on activities that include managing, interacting and communicating with people.
People who have suffered job loses due to the coronavirus will benefit from the presence of automation. Many companies use AI-powered tools to sort through large datasets, so if you're right for the role, you won't be overlooked.
What skills should I learn?
As new technologies are introduced to replace manual tasks, the workplace is transforming. Adapting to this new way of working will be easier if you at least have a basic knowledge of how to use technology to your advantage. In fact, in about 60% of occupations, at least one-third of activities could be automated.
Thankfully, there's so much you can do now to get ahead of the curve and learn these skills. Many organisations, such as CodeAcademy and Udemy, have sprung up to provide free computer science and coding courses.
Since everything has its pros and cons, technology is no different. While it might displace some roles and require us all to be agile to a changing workplace, it's also opening the door to many more. For instance, digital technologies have made flexible working a reality - a need of the hour during the pandemic. Entrepreneurship is also on the rise making soft skills increasingly cherished. COVID-19 has shown us that perhaps we are finally moving into a world of 'man and machine', working side-by-side to complete the task at hand.