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New Tech, New Jobs

It’s interesting to watch economists and tech prognosticators go back and forth over whether artificial intelligence, robots and other thinking machines will kill or create jobs. Most recently, the McKinsey Global Institute and India’s Tata Communications have come out with reports that are more optimistic about our ability to earn a living in a world where machines are doing a lot of the thinking.

Today, a remarkable 61% of all businesses are implementing artificial intelligence, up from 38% in 2016. The artificial thinkers are engaging in computer vision and creating natural language; they are becoming virtual assistants and facilitating machine learning and better decision making. McKinsey expects the world to experience an additional 1.2% a year in GDP growth over the next ten years due to these enhanced business capabilities—equating to $13 trillion in additional wealth for the global citizens. At the same time, skilled jobs will be in higher demand—and therefore, skilled workers will be able to demand higher income, and the companies will be able to pay it.

Tata’s report predicts that, just like software did, the AI-enhanced computers will create a lot of new ways of working—essentially meaning new jobs and careers. The McKinsey report basically agrees, but says that there will be a challenge for today’s less-computer-literate workers; they will need to be retrained to use or work alongside automation—called “reskilling” in the HR lingo. Otherwise, their opportunities will fall to 30% of all jobs, down from 40% of all jobs today held by people who are not computer literate.

To take an example, chances are you’ve waited in an endless line to return an item at your favorite store, and there was a lot of time and trouble once you got to the front of the line. Now companies have staffers approach people in line with iPads in hand. They can look up the customer’s purchase, instantly identify or scan in the item they’re returning, and even look up buying history and make recommendations on whether to exchange or get a refund. The whole customer service model changes with technology. The McKinsey report also talks about unexpected demand for skills. Its previous report did not predict today’s massive demand for mobile app developers.

The picture of the world that emerges from these reports is similar to the changes that software brought about a generation ago: machines and people will collaborate to handle more data faster and in increasingly creative ways to innovate and solve problems. The key skillset will be the ability to continually learn and adopt new skills. For those who already have this important facility, it sounds like an exciting future.

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