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Technology is Changing Jobs, Not Threatening Them

We are entering a new era of automation, today, more than ever before, it shall unleash the actual value of human beings at work and enhance it

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My neighbour’s 14-month-old daughter has mastered the art of flicking through apps with her tiny fingers to do her beckoning. Hence, when she was in the lift recently, struggling in Bangalore’s heat, she gently tapped the fan switch expecting it to do her beckoning.

The world is changing and human beings are being valued more for their superior cognitive abilities than their ability to exert themselves physically (even if it something as simple as twisting a fan switch) or carry out roles which are repetitive, predictive and scalable. The question today, hence, is not whether automation shall threaten the job market, it is which jobs it is more likely to threaten.

While growing up, we got used to the sight of a battalion of workers digging trenches to lay either cables or water pipes every now and then. The process of digging, laying cables and refilling the ditches would take months causing immense inconvenience to many in the society. And the workers were paid peanuts under highly vulnerable work conditions. Nowadays that sight is rare — we have heavy machinery taking care of the digging, laying and even refilling — all under the supervision of skilled heavy equipment operators and engineers. Amidst it all, year-on-year we are seeing more people in jobs and the net growth hasn’t slowed down. So is our fear valid?

The diagnosis process that took hours for my father as a doctor a couple of decades back, now takes minutes with invaluable insights being thrown in front of a doctor’s laptop enabling him to make a quicker and more accurate diagnosis. This also leaves doctors ample time to look at more patients in a relatively lesser time frame thereby improving healthcare options. All the anecdotes point in only one direction that automation suggests progress which is an inherent seeking spirit of every human being.

Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics are manifestation of human aspiration from progress, of doing less of the predictive, mundane, process-led work and spending more time in understanding and building human relationships, in managing others (teams, companies, countries, world, world wide web), in taking responsibilities, in being accountable, in creating.

David Autor, an economist and professor at MIT shares that till 1970 when Automated Teller Machines (ATM) were discovered, the US had about a quarter of a million tellers in banks. By 2000 the number of tellers in banks instead of going down actually doubled. Largely for two reasons: A) banks discovered that their costs were lower and hence they could open more branches; B) As tellers routine cash handling task reduced, they became more like salespeople nurturing relationships with their customers, solving their problems and introducing them to newer products (investments, loans, cards). Essentially tellers tranformed into doing more cognitive work.

We are entering a new era of automation, today, more than ever before, it shall unleash the actual value of human beings at work and enhance it. Our ability to decipher the fifty shades of dynamic human working relationships, our ability to react and decipher, our ability to adapt isn’t something machines can do. And in times like these, skills of an adept manager, leader, mentor, risk taker shall outshine all else.

Automation, AI, Bots sound ominous to those who lack aspiration. However, it is merely a process of human advancement. In order to leverage the same it does put onus on us to dedicate ourselves to lifelong learning and skill development to be able to transform our roles to stay relevant by investing in our cognitive abilities. Times are changing, so should we.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Rituparna Chakraborty

The writer is Co-Founder & Executive Vice President, TeamLease Services Ltd, President, Indian Staffing Federation

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