Imagine a future where you’re driving to work and your car suddenly says, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” You pull over to the side of the road, confused and a little worried when suddenly the truth dawns on you: your job has been replaced by a machine.

Don’t worry, it’s not just you. In fact, it’s estimated that in the next 10-20 years, up to 50% of all jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Read that again. 50%. Across my own businesses, we have started using AI in back-office functions. And the results are off the scale.

Professions like sales, law, medicine, and even teaching could soon be performed by machines. So what does that mean for the future of work?

What is The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Jobs?

While it’s true that AI will replace many jobs, it’s also true that it will create many new ones. For example, there will be a need for people to design and oversee the AI systems that are increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives. In addition, as AI-powered machines begin to perform more tasks traditionally carried out by human workers, those workers will be freed up to focus on other tasks that require creativity and critical thinking—skills that machines have yet to master.

If you told a factory worker working in the textile industry of the first industrial revolution that there would be a job called a ramp model, they would have thought you’re loose in the mental bolts. If you told a farmer working their land in the late 1800s that the cities would completely industrialized and mechanize small-scale farms, they might have mentioned some biblical verse about the “sweat of their brow”.

The effect of new technology is always hard to imagine until it is made manifest at an industrial scale. And that’s the problem, by the time the threat is clear it is too mature to counter.

The Quest To Increase Efficiency

Of course, there will also be a period of adjustment as millions of workers are displaced by AI. Think about the mechanic working in the vehicle servicing department for a certain brand.

Just two short decades that relied predominantly on their training, the process of elimination, and A-B testing to diagnose the issue with your car while you waited at the dealership floor hoping not to be attacked by a target-fuel sales rep chasing another unit. That wait time with prime time for somebody to sell you. Today that process of diagnosis is almost completely automated with the key acting at the data storage unit from which the service department can accurately read fault data.

The quest to reduce waiting time, improve turnaround and drive efficiencies has created a less patient customer.

Now the dealerships can access your vehicle data remotely, receive a warning fault from the vehicle directly and call you with a proposed service appointment before you even become aware of the problem.

The connected device and the internet of things made this possible. AI will soon diagnose issues and faults before they occur, recall models before incidents so as to reduce insurance claims and predict the life cycle of a certain component or part before you even buy the car. It will recommend what insurance or warranty cover you should purchase using your driver data from your previous cars.

Be Sure To Include Analysts

What about the risk analyst in working in a mine or an investment house?

Consider the career prospects of a credit analyst working for a bank. What happens to them when the macro-models that they run and the committee decisions that they take (wisdom of the group) are better modelled by and can deliver return when made by an AI-powered system that inputs live data and does a few million calcs a sec. No more teams’ meetings. No more tea and coffee. Instant churn from raw data to analytics, from analytics to insights, and from insights to recommendations – or in the most extreme cases, decisions.

During this time, it’s important to provide support for those who have lost their jobs so that they can retrain for the jobs of the future. This is the only hope we have. Embrace the change, don’t fight it.

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A Potential For A Bright Future

And perhaps here government and corporates need to be a bit more creative. Perhaps nations should have “retrain budgets” aimed at carrying the social cost of the jobs that are sure to be lost.

There will also need to be measured in place to prevent corporations from using AI to exploit workers or drive down wages. But if we can manage these challenges, the future of work could be very exciting indeed.

The rise of artificial intelligence is inevitable—and it’s going to change the world of work as we know it. While there will be some challenges along the way, such as mass displacement of workers and increased inequality between rich and poor, there is also great potential for a bright future in which human beings are liberated from mundane tasks and can focus on more creative and rewarding pursuits.

So don’t worry about losing your job to a machine—worry about how you’re going to stay ahead of the curve in this exciting new world.


Vusi Thembekwayo