Hand on computer. Photo by John Schnobrich/Unsplash

Automation will change the workplace – for better

Much is said about the jobs that automation will cross off, but the truth is that new and exciting professions will also be created

In times of series such as "Black Mirror" and "Westworld," it isn’t hard to imagine a dystopian future in which all jobs are in the automated hands of robots or in the brain of an AI system. Like any major change, digital disruption in companies is scary, but there is no reason to panic – it’s the other way around, actually. New studies prove that a number of professions will emerge as automation makes itself more available in the traditional labor market.

Singular in its scope and impact, an extensive survey released in late 2017 by the American consulting firm McKinsey revealed a rich mosaic of potential changes in employment within the incoming years. The main finding of the survey, entitled “What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages” is that important and challenging transitions will highlight the next 12 years, although there are prospects for full employment by 2030. These transitions may even exceed the scale of changes seen previously in agriculture and the industry.

Automation and its consequences

Automation, as the word suggests, is an automatic mechanical process control system that allows machines to check their own operation, introducing adjustments and corrections without the need for human input. With the expansion of automation, everything involving manual labor will increasingly be performed by machines – instead of humans. The upshot is a change in the nature of work. In the future, there will be human functions which cannot be performed by machines, such as people management, knowledge application and human communication. In this sense, the skills of the workforce will also have to change in order to include advanced cognitive functions, such as social and emotional interaction, logical reasoning and creativity.

Humans will need to be more human in the Automation Age

According to a study performed by the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey, at least one-third of the main activities performed by humans could be automated in about 60% of occupations. This means that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation in the next 12 years. This gives a real perspective on the size of changes for society. And there’s more: of the total displaced, 75 million to 375 million may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills.

For Andrew Anagnost, a former researcher of the American space agency NASA, currently president of design software company Autodesk, says technology has created a more sustainable developed world and those who say automation will wipe jobs out is neglecting an important point. "The world needs more buildings, infrastructure and products than it has people, money or materials to make them", Anagnost wrote in a recent article about the future of work.

"If you look at infrastructure in the developed world, there’s so much that needs to be redone: bridges are crumbling; roads are in trouble. In emerging countries, infrastructure needs to be built: rail roads, tunnels, and bridges. And there aren’t enough raw materials or money available to make things the way they’ve been done in the past,” he says. World population is expected to grow – we will be 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to ONU - those people will generate more demand as they purchase more cars, houses, clothes, food and, mainly, energy. In an automated world, technology will remove inefficiency and waste, which is essential, as there will be a higher demand for almost everything in the next few decades.

Cidade vista de cima. Foto de Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash
Cities needed manpower to be more efficient. Photo: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

In addition, automation generates sustainability. If construction and manufacturing companies can automate things more effectively, more intelligently and with less resources, they will be able to provide more sustainability. Robotics applied to the construction process will help people reuse materials from existing buildings and infrastructure, thereby reducing environmental and financial costs. Robotics will also reduce time and money invested in training the workforce and more sustainable practices. In an automated future, a software upgrade can change industry-wide practices at once, with immediate effects on business and the planet.

Automation has the power to boost new economies around recycling and reusing, which could directly affect the automobile industry, mainly in big cities, where the use of private cars has increasingly reduced. If cars were built smaller, greener, more efficiently and cheaper, reality would be different. Cars with these features are easily manufactured with automation. “Electric cars are more electronically complex, but they’re less mechanically complex. In a highly automated world, manufacturers could refresh the fleet of cars on the planet rapidly while recycling the raw materials hidden in all the cars on the road right now,” says Anagnost.

It is clear that automation will transform existing industries and create brand-new industries. As a result, the future population will have to adapt to a more technologically sophisticated work environment. Younger generations are already more tech-savvy than the previous ones. They’re used to technology changing quickly. They understand that flexibility and adaptability are key factors for getting a good job – and also, that this might increase with automation. That kind of fluidity and adaptability to technology can be learned. Whoever is willing to assimilate the news will increase employment chances.

The new professions

See below which professions will emerge with the advance of technology in five areas of knowledge

1. Design

The new designer will create virtual reality experiences, sketch fashion clothes in 3D printers and make human organs in the lab.

3D printing fashion designer, VR experience designer and organ designers are some of the roles a designer will be able to choose in the near future. In an article in Singularity University, Raya Bidshahri, founder & CEO of Awecademy, an online platform that gives young minds the opportunity to learn, points out that the professions of the future will be multidisciplinary: “a VR experience designer will have to combine expertise from both the arts and technology to create immersive VR worlds.”

2. Neuroscience

The new neuroscience specialists will apply their knowledge in the development of implants for turbinated brains and the man-robot interface.

Neuralink, a recent startup launched by Elon Musk, founder of Pay Pal and currently ahead of Tesla and SpaceX, wishes to merge the human mind with AI. With technology developments in the next few years, we will be able to connect brains and allow them to communicate with one another, in the process developing mechanisms for “reading minds” or reconstructing memories. Therefore, neuroscience specialists will be required.

3. Ethics and regulation

Professionals on technology ethics, philosophy, law and policy will be crucial to establish regulation and limits on technology.

As we see the emergence of increasingly immersive tech, there will be a growing demand for professionals who are able to ask the right questions about these new tools in order to define appropriate ethical guidelines for a wide range of complex scenarios. According to Raya Bidshahri, an online learning platform, some examples in this field are cognitive enhancement consultant, genetic modification ethicist, privacy guardian and much more.

4. Transport Engineering

Future traffic engineers will design infrastructure for self-driving cars, express systems such as the Hyperloop and even spaceships.

The rise of innovative vehicles such as self-driving cars, electrics cars, drones and Hyperloop - a kind of capsule that dislocates people at high speeds in the vacuum of buried pipes - will demand many new positions. These means of transport will require people to settle their network including construction teams, hyperloop common center operations, traffic flow analyzers and driverless operating system engineers. Space trips shall create a market of flight operator and pilots, among others.

5. Urbanism

Urbanism will change too, with the rise of specialists in sustainable solutions for megacities.

Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050, according to the UN’s report. The report notes that a successful urban planning agenda will demand attention to urban settlements of all sizes. Clean public transportation and renewable energy sources already are a source of employment. This will increase substantially in the upcoming years with the reorganization of priorities and the increase in the number and size of large cities. Smart city planner, clean energy architect, zero-consumption house designer - all these jobs will be in high demand.