How is AI Changing the Workplace? It’s not just about Automation

Elias Kruger

How will the workplace change in the coming years? Current discussions have centered on the automation threat from emerging AI technologies. This fear-based perspective often misses the complexities of a fluid job market that is not only driven by technological change but also by socioeconomic forces that are not often as visible. Moreover, technological advancements, while making some occupation obsolete also create the demand for new ones. Just consider the fact that the job of social media manager did not exist 10 years ago.

With that in mind, the World Economic Forum and LinkedIn have partnered to analyze the future of work. They approach the subject with a broader lens seeking to understand how upcoming changes will affect economic opportunity. Their first interesting findings was the parallel growth of both tech-related jobs along with human-centric occupations. That is, professions like software engineer and data analyst have grown along with human resource specialist and recruiter. On the flip side, automation is eliminating a number of occupations like journalist, customers service representative, salesperson and administrative assistants.

As the research probed further, AI skills proved to be among the fastest-growing in positions posted. The demand for data science and machine learning skill have grown 190% between 2015-2017 according to the LinkedIn platform. This growth is not limited to the tech industry but is also present in Education, Retail and Finance. They noted that this trend is not limited to one region but has spread globally. Leading countries in AI skills are the United States, China, India, Israel and Germany.

These interesting findings raise concern but also hope for the future. First it confirms that AI and other emerging technologies are indeed eliminating service jobs. This is cause for concern and something that governments and civil society should look for solutions. From ideas like Universal Basic Income to investment in education and re-training, the path is probably somewhere in between. Furthermore, as the demand for AI skills increases, the challenge of equipping workers with it cannot be left to traditional educational channels. Universities, Colleges and even technical schools cannot adequately meet the training demands for the working place. Another problem is that tech education continues to be the domain of white and Asian men. The democratization of tech education is essential to ensure future equity in the workspace and also ensure the AI we build reflects all of us, not just a few.

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Reality Changing Observations

Q1. How do you think AI will change the workplace? Do you think it will be for the better or worse?

Q2. Would you consider learning AI skills to transition into a new job? How would you do that?

Q3. What about the human-centric jobs? How can we prepare people for these jobs?