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The changing nature of work

Robotics, AI and automation will impact on the future of work at all levels of society.
© University of Exeter

Fifty years ago it was common for an individual to work for the same employer their entire working life. Twenty-five years ago the concept of a ‘job-for-life’ had gone and at least one career change had become quite normal. Today, many more flexible options are available to us and this trend is likely to increase further.

For example, developments in robotics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI) will prove to be highly disruptive to existing work. The integration of these physical, biological and digital systems in new and exciting ways is creating complex automated systems that will result in significant changes to the nature of work.

The UK Government report on ‘The Future of Work (2014)’ stressed the “potential disruptive impact on jobs of advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and 3-D printing” by 2030.

This view was echoed in the UK’s 2017 Industrial Strategy which stated “the world is changing in fundamental ways…artificial intelligence will transform the way we live and work”.

For a broader perspective, check out the Global Commission on the Future of Work report by the International Labour Organization.

‘We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.’ Quoted by Karl Fisch in the viral YouTube video ‘Did You Know?’ (46 seconds in).

The effect of automated, driverless vehicles on people employed in the transport industry is a popular example used by the media, but the effects will reach into many more sectors than that.

Among others, these technologies (especially AI systems) are also already present in

  • our smartphones
  • online shopping and entertainment recommender systems
  • social media services
  • email spam detection systems
  • credit card fraud detection
  • hospital diagnoses
  • large-scale scientific research projects
  • shipping and ports

In May 2018, the then Prime Minister of the UK, Teresa May, issued a challenge to the medical profession. It should accelerate the development and use of Artificial Intelligence systems to improve the identification of cancers in patients. Experts suggest that over 22,000 patients could benefit from cancer preventions by 2033, as a result of AI systems outperforming humans in the early identification of cancer.

Think about your current (or planned) job role and career path. To what extent is it likely to be impacted by the developments in technology we have reviewed?

© University of Exeter
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