Will robots take our jobs?
Fact or fiction
Head of Innovation
Virgin Media O2 Business
21st June 2022
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For some time, the rise of the machines (the evolution of tech beyond our control, not the Terminator film!) and explosion of growth in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics has been met with trepidation amongst large swathes of the workforce. The main panic-inducing perception being that robots will steal millions of our jobs.
Indeed, the Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that the workforce is automating faster than expected because of Covid-19, displacing 85 million jobs in the next five years. And our own research with the Centre for Economics and Business Research in 2021, uncovered that digital progress had accelerated by an average of three years across industry because of the pandemic.
But what the World Economic Forum also found in their report was that the robot revolution will create 97 million new jobs. Crucially, they will be different jobs to the ones we know today, and they will be ones that we need to digitally upskill for.
In this article, I delve into the tech hype versus the reality and some interesting ways AI and robotics are being applied today and may affect us in the future.
Industrial revolutions: from industry 1.0 to 4.0
You don’t have to go too far back into history to find reassurance that we have been here before. On the cusp of a major transformation in the ways that we work.
The emergence of the First Industrial Revolution in the UK in the 18th century was the great age of steam, canals and factories to mechanise production. It changed the face of the British economy. In the second revolution, the age of science and mass production meant machinery replaced vast numbers of jobs in the mills and factories. But production increases overall meant job numbers increased rather than decreased.
And the same can be said for the third revolution, which introduced electronic and IT to automate production. But will the reality of industry 4.0 and all its components, as pictured here, be the same? Or will smart machines and smart factories mean that this is the revolution in which humans get replaced?
The rise of use cases
According to research by Capital Economics for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, at the start of 2022, 68% of large companies, 34% of medium-sized companies and 15% of small companies have already adopted at least one AI technology. As businesses grow, they are more likely to adopt AI, and future spending on AI tech is set to increase across all business sizes.
We can already see a growing number of applications in practice, from aerial and land drones delivering parcels in the last mile to robot cleaners in offices. In the next five years, how many roles humans do today could be replaced by robots?
Today at Virgin Media O2 Business, we use chatbots in our call centre and an AI call routing engine that remembers who you spoke to last time you called and provides the agent with more information. And we use AI in the main mobile network to manage demand.
Machine learning plays a hugely beneficial part in our data insights solution, called O2 Motion.* As mobile devices connect to different masts, they create data footprints which we then anonymise, aggregate and extrapolate to gain a picture of how people are travelling, when they make journeys and which areas they visit. We also use algorithms to overlay the likely demographics of user groups based on usage behaviour, and to infer spend power based on anonymised indicators such as connections to masts abroad, number of calls, and travel patterns within the UK.
These richer insights are used to improve decision-making and customer experiences. And you can rest-assured that the data is fully GDPR-compliant, aggregated and anonymised.
As we go about our every day, we can already see the sorts of jobs impacted by automation — from cashiers in supermarkets, call centre operations, telemarketing, travel agents to CoBotics in refereeing with VAR on the football pitch. But the jobs that require empathy, care or creativity – be that doctors and clinicians, creatives, childcare workers, chefs, c-suite execs, software developers, journalists, business leaders – are unlikely to be automated any time soon.
As much as there are risks to the rapid expansion of any new technology, there are also huge opportunities for business productivity. Think about your average day and time you spend on tasks that could be automated by apps. On a daily basis you likely have emails or admin tasks that are repetitive in their ask. What could you automate in your role or your team’s roles?
Gaining time efficiency doesn’t mean robots will take our jobs. It means we get time back to use our skills more effectively and achieve more. It means working smarter. It also means having the time to be more proactive in employee engagement or customer care – chatbots can be used for instance to highlight where human intervention is needed and reduce customer complaints.
AI and robotics — our new work companions not job stealers
The future of work has already arrived for significant parts of the workforce, with rapidly digitalising working processes and hybrid or remote working expansions.
In 2025, the World Economic Forum predicts analytical thinking, creativity and flexibility are amongst the top skills needed; with data and artificial intelligence, content creation and cloud computing the top emerging professions.
The most competitive businesses will be those that choose to reskill and upskill current employees. And also those that challenge more, to make innovation part of the every day of business rather than a separate team or function not integrated with daily operations.
Nowhere could this be more relevant than in the public sector – although not traditionally known for being at the forefront of tech investment, tech adoption and innovation is so important here. Why? Because people don't distinguish between public and private services when it comes to their expectations. As private sector organisations continue to innovate and improve user experiences at lightning speed, we need change drivers on the public side doing the same.
At Virgin Media O2 Business we can help your organisation with the tech it needs to get:
- Connected – keeping your staff connected to the people and tools they need at all time
- Protected – making working from anywhere as safe as the office with integrated cybersecurity
- Empowered – putting the right cloud, data and unified comms tools in your people’s hands wherever they happen to be
Get in touch with me to learn more around how AI could support your business and how we can help.
*Data insights we share never allow identification or mapping of individuals, and operate within strict privacy guidelines.