9 - 11 June 2020
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AI won’t take your job, people will

13 Mar 2019 | Nick Jonsson, Managing Director, EGN Singapore

Technology is not the enemy. AI, Virtual Reality, and Chatbots are not the sole reason people lose their jobs. The Industrial Revolution has taught us that while certain skills become obsolete because of new ways of doings things, new jobs are also created. Those who are able to adapt and learn new skills are those who were able to survive and thrive.

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century showed us the positive and negative effects of shifting from a mostly agrarian economy and manual labour to a machine-reliant economy. One of the highlighted benefits had been the decrease in labour cost and increase in productivity as factories and machines replicated what artisans did at a faster pace. Those who experienced short-term displacement were generally the artisans and some low-skilled people: tailors, masons, carpenters, stone cutters, glass makers, lamp lighters, chimney sweepers, and the like.

It was simple economics at work. The cost of hiring artisans was high due to their limited number. While many lauded the European guild system as an example of protecting the quality of work by requiring members to go through apprenticeship, this has eventually resulted in a political system of patronage and exclusivity as those who didn’t have the capital required or the approval of their peers were excluded.

As machines were introduced and factories increased, more people were able to secure jobs. Development expanded from factories to construction. New machineries required new skill sets, and those who were willing to learn became the new artisans.

The same thing is happening now. People are in a frenzy over the possibility of displacement due to automation. This Luddite thinking has been perpetuated since the introduction of machines during the Industrial Revolution. Contrasting studies over the years sought to prove and to disprove technological unemployment, with those concerned about the future of work citing the study by PriceWaterhouseCooper.

Proponents focused on the analysis that “30% of UK jobs could potentially be at high risk of automation by the early 2030s, lower than the US (38%) or Germany (35%), but higher than Japan (21%)”, with the most at risk industries being “transportation and storage (56%), manufacturing (46%) and wholesale and retail (44%).”

What was conveniently left out was the key point that “these jobs may actually be automated for a variety of economic, legal and regulatory reasons.”

When we look around us, human beings are still working everywhere. Buildings are being built by cranes – manned by people. Computers are analysing data – inputted by humans. Cars are still being driven by humans. Movies are being directed by humans. Actors and actresses are still people.

Instead of spending time and energy worrying about how AI or technology, at large, is going to cause unemployment, it is better to take action.

Here are three things to consider:

  1. Change your mindset

Stubborn people who refuse to learn new technology will be left behind. Development will not stop. Technology is part of our lives and will continue to be so for decades to come. Don’t look at technology as the enemy. Instead, consider technology and all its innovation as presents to unwrap, to wonder at, and to use. There is power in changing your mindset.

Various psychological studies have shown have shifting your way of thinking can help you ace tests, helps you live a longer and healthier life, or helps you improve and grow as a person.

  1. Upskill yourself

There are many free and affordable courses to learn virtually anything under the sun, and in the comfort and security of your own home.

In Singapore, the government via the Skills Future Singapore, encourages lifelong learning and provides grants and subsidies. For those over 40 and self-funding, there’s the Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy. For those who are employed, and are 35 years and over, the Workforce Training Support (WTS) is available.

Online learning platforms such as Coursera, Lynda, Udacity, and Udemy, are also available. Price points differ and some of the courses are linked to reputable universities around the world.

  1. Experiment

Mistakes will be made; that’s part of learning. You won’t grow unless you find what works and what doesn’t.

Studies have shown that the refusal of older people, in general, to learn new technology is related to intimidation and lack of clear instruction. Compare that to toddlers who were never taught how to use Tablets, Computers, and Smartphones, happily tapping and swiping away until they become experts of their parents’ gadgets. This doesn’t mean mistakes don’t happen. There have been a number of stories of kids ordering online via Alexa or purchasing apps. While the incidents are hilarious, they were also learning opportunities for kids – and parents! – on how to manage their apps and gadgets.

In business, experimentation can be risky as it has an expense component. Still, it is better to try. Nokia failed not because they did anything wrong; it’s because they failed to experiment and innovate.

At EGN Singapore, we experimented with telemarketing. We had to shut that down after a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, we appointed Black Marketing as they use LinkedIn to reach out to our target audience. It’s a novel and, some would say, risky approach, but nobody every succeeded without taking risks.

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