We’re hot on the heels of some great news regarding the economy, with household incomes making a sharp rise, even for those on the lowest rungs. Unemployment is down — way down, considering Great Recession levels — and consumer confidence and stock prices are high. All told, things are in pretty good shape. But there are looming job losses and giant economic changes on the horizon that policymakers and social leaders still aren’t preparing for.
Though it still seems like science fiction, we’re rapidly approaching a time and age in which many workers are going to be made redundant by technology and automation. That means job losses — or job destruction, really — and some structural changes to the overall economic system that most people are woefully unprepared for.
Just how big of a shift are we talking, and how rapidly should we expect it to happen? According to a new report, we could see 6% of all jobs disappear within the next five years — a jarring prediction that means things are going to get very hairy, very fast for a significant number of the nation’s workforce.
While technological advances typically usher in new opportunities and career paths — think of what the advent of the internet has done for the job market, for example — the rapid and widespread adoption of automation and artificial intelligence systems economy-wide may throw our traditional models out the window.
The report in question, from market research company Forrester, says that by 2021, we should expect to see the arrival of widespread job losses due to automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Though this “jobpocalypse” has been long-predicted, it’s within these next few years that experts expect to see some very big changes.
“By 2021, a disruptive tidal wave will begin,” said Brian Hopkins, VP at Forrester, in the report (per CNBC). “Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service, and consumer services.”
Also, this: “Early movers who have amassed large data sets will have created a baseline set of AI/cognitive services. Other disruptors will begin to use these services to scale their businesses and steal customers from competitors.”
Essentially, we’ll see a handful of companies who are already in a great position start to push their technologies and services out to other industries, eating up jobs. Companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and others will probably be at the forefront of the shift (seeing as they all own and have developed these technologies, and sit on mountains of data) and though these companies are economic powerhouses, they employ relatively few people compared to the business powers of generations past.
And if you’re working in customer service, marketing, or driving a truck or taxi cab? You’ll likely be among the first to be driven out of the workforce by technology, according to Forrester.
Time to panic about the changing economy?
There are a couple of ways you can look at the findings of Forrester’s report. One, you might be surprised that automation and artificial intelligence is taking only a relatively small bite out of the workforce. Six percent isn’t that big of a number, after all. And secondly, you can be worried about the speed at which this is happening. Given enough time, you might expect to see 6% of the country’s jobs destroyed and reborn in some other form. But one out of every 20 jobs in America in just five years?
That can be troubling. Of course, these are just predictions, and things may turn out completely different. But that won’t stop the creep of automation and technology into workplaces that are traditionally human-powered. Just how long before truck drivers and fast food workers are completely replaced, anyway? It could be five years, or it could be 10 years.
It seems rather clear that it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
What can we do about it? That’s the big question and one that has so far not been taken very seriously by policymakers. Though some seem to think that these gigantic economic shifts won’t be a very big deal in the giant scheme of things, life could get very tough for people who find themselves shut out of a job. The only thing they can do is to start planning now and pick up a more diverse skill set.
There’s no stopping progress, and as things change, so must people. That goes for everyone — blue collar and white collar workers both.