Tag: robots

The future of work in a digital world

By Cathy Smith, MD at SAP Africa

The digital age, and the new technologies it’s brought with it – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – is seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job gets automated? How will I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flood of data that’s washing over us?

The bad news is that the nature of work has already changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated, will be. We already live in an age of “robot restaurants”, where you order on a touch screen, and machines cook and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo is providing shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, there are an estimated 3.4 million drivers that could be replaced by self-driving vehicles in 10 years, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.

We’re not immune from this phenomenon in Africa. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, compared to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This doesn’t mean millions of jobs on the continent will be automated overnight, but it’s a clear indicator of the future direction we’re taking.

The good news is that we don’t need to panic. What’s important for us in South Africa, and the continent, is to realise that there is plenty of work that only humans can do. This is particularly relevant to the African context, as the working-age population rises to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. We have a groundswell of young people who need jobs – and the digital age has the ability to provide them, if we start working now.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that this so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is going to disrupt many occupations. This is perfectly natural: every Industrial Revolution has made some jobs redundant. At the same time, these Revolutions have created vast new opportunities that have taken us forward exponentially.

Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it’s estimated that the demand for data analysts globally grew by 372%, and the demand for data visualisation skills by more than 2000%. As businesses, this means we have to not only create new jobs in areas like data science and analytics, but reskill our existing workforces to deal with the digital revolution and its new demands.

So, while bus drivers and data clerks are looking over their shoulders nervously right now, we’re seeing a vast range of new jobs being created in fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.

This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to be had. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of home-grown African digital creators, designers and makers, not just “digital deliverers”. People who understand African nuances and stories, and who not only speak local languages, but are fluent in digital.

This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more business operations data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless human-machine interaction.

Of course, in the longer term, we in Africa are going to have to make some fundamental decisions about how we educate people if we’re going to be a part of this brave new world. Governments, big business and civil society will all have roles to play in creating more future-ready education systems, including expanded access to early-childhood education, more skilled teachers, investments in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills, and providing robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This will take significant intent not only from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to fund this.

None of this will happen overnight. So what can we, as individuals and businesspeople, do in the meantime? A good start would be to realise that the old models of learning and work are broken. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s Global Head of Learning, talks about how the old approach to learning and work was generally a three-stage life that consisted largely of learn-work-retire.

Today, we live in what Ms Dearborn calls the multi-stage life, which includes numerous phases of learn-work-change-learn-work. And where before, the learning was often by rote, because information was finite, learning now is all about critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation and even the ability to un-learn what you have learned before.

Helping instill this culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure, is something that all companies can do, starting now. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they are going through major changes to their skills profile. WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.

This is a huge wake-up call to companies to invest meaningfully in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There’s no doubt that more learning will need to take place in the workplace, and greater private sector involvement is needed. As employers, we have to start working closely with should therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to provide learning opportunities to our workers.

We can also drive a far stronger focus on the so-called “soft skills”, which is often used as a slightly dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today’s workplace are active listening, speaking, and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEF’s “21st Century Skills Required For The Future Of Work” chart bears this out: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to make sense of the modern world of work, we also need innately human skills like communication and collaboration. The good news is that not only can these be taught – but they can be taught within the work environment.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the Digital Age, businesses are going to have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy AI, build data warehouses, and automate every process in sight. The companies that will stand out will be those that that focus on the things that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning – uniquely human skills.

I have no doubt that the future will not be humans OR robots: it will be humans AND robots, working side by side. For us, as business people and children of the African continent, we’re on the brink of a major opportunity. We just have to grasp it.

By Noah Smith for The Star 

Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and one of the pioneers of the world wide web, once declared:

The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories. People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.

Andreessen has since repudiated this declaration, and taken a more optimistic stance. But economists, a more pessimistic bunch, are taking the possibility of this sort of bifurcated future more seriously. As machine-learning technology enjoys rapid progress, more top researchers are investigating the question of what work will look like in a world filled with computers that can replicate or surpass many of humanity’s own mental abilities.

This is different from the scenario where robots take people’s jobs outright and leave humanity obsolete. While some economists claim to find signs of automation-induced unemployment, the amount is still very small, if it even exists at all. With the labour market having reached pre-recession levels, worries that jobs will become permanently scarce have quieted.

But that doesn’t mean the jobs people have in the future will be good ones. For decades, some economists have fretted about what they call skill-biased technological change, or the possibility that new technologies will reward those smart or mentally flexible enough to master them, while devaluing the skills of everyone else.

As computerisation proceeded in the 1980s, and as inequality rose, some economists worried that skill-biased technological change might already be having a big effect. But they probably jumped the gun. A 2002 paper by labour economists David Card and John DiNardo observed that wage inequality stopped rising in the 1990s, even as computerisation accelerated. The authors also noted that the 1980s saw a diminution of the gender wage gap, despite the fact that women were less likely to have computer-intensive jobs.

But just because skill-biased technological change doesn’t explain the 1980s doesn’t mean it will never happen. In 2010, labour economist David Autor warned that routine tasks – jobs like assembly-line manufacturing or traditional office work – were being automated. These jobs use a lot of brain power, but in a predictable, repetitive way – exactly the kind of thing that computers can do better than humans. Autor found that his measures of routine task input were declining decade by decade:

It’s also possible that the “people who tell computers what to do”, and who therefore reap the benefits of the machine age, will not be workers, but business owners. Some economists believe that cheap technology is causing labour’s share of global income to decline. A recent study by Autor and co-author Anna Salomons finds that since the 1970s, industries with faster productivity growth, international patenting and robot adoption have all seen labour lose out to capital. That’s not a slam-dunk case – there are other reasons these factors could be hurting workers, and the rise of capital income could be mostly due to other forces. But this research raises the disturbing possibility that automation will lead to the final victory of capital over labour.

Now the worries about automation-induced inequality have increased, thanks to the stunning rise of machine learning. Since 2013, there has been a surge of interest in this new technology, which allows computers to do tasks like image and speech recognition that were previously the sole province of human brains:

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs and big businesses alike are dreaming of ways to use machine learning to replace a vast array of human tasks, from driving trucks to preparing food. Venture capitalists are pouring money into machine learning startups – often known by the trendy if inaccurate buzzword of “artificial intelligence”:

Economists, true to form as the dismal scientists, are concerned. If machine learning automates away low-skilled tasks, as some predict, it might not make working-class people obsolete, but it could make their existence miserable nonetheless. It’s possible to imagine a future where lower-skilled people are constantly seeing their jobs get gobbled up by machines, forcing them to always be transitioning to new tasks – perpetually seeking a niche that hasn’t yet been devoured by ingenious entrepreneurs and their subservient robots, even as wages diminish. That scenario doesn’t necessarily involve high unemployment, but it’s hellish enough that it should worry people.

So what can be done to avert this future? The popular ideas include universal basic income, a federal job guarantee and subsidies for the employment of human workers. These are all ideas worth trying out on a modest scale, to see if they work; even if machine learning isn’t the threat some fear, they could be very helpful in reducing inequality.

Another idea is a social wealth fund – a government-managed fund or collection of funds that would use tax revenue to purchase shares in companies and distribute the dividends to citizens. A social wealth fund would create a true ownership society, insuring the working populace against the rise of the robots by allowing each person to own a piece of those robots’ output. Ultimately, this seems like the simplest and most elegant solution.

Robots, AI and other office tech problems

Workplaces the world over are changing rapidly, thanks to the way we prefer to work, social changes and technological advances.

According to Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, seldom has so much change come at once to the workplace as it has this year. These are the more significant trends that will continue to dominate the conversation around work in 2018.

Unequal pay
South Africa is ranked 19 in a global index report on gender inequality released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) late last year. The report finds that while South Africa has improved its share of women legislators, senior officials and managers, the gender wage gap in the country has increased. In recent years, women have made significant progress towards equality in a number of areas such as education and health, with the Nordic countries leading the way.

But the global trend now seems to have made a U-turn, especially in workplaces, where full gender equality is not expected to materialise until 2234 according to WEF.

“This is a hot topic the world over,” says Andrews. “And until there is fairness, wage gaps will continue to be scrutinised. Closing the wage gap could add millions to the economy and uplift so many people’s lives.”

Andrews noted that he expects more countries around the world to follow in the steps the UK took last year in making it a legal requirement for companies with more than 250 employees to declare the gender wage gap.

Workplace harassment
Last year there was a lot of news of workers coming forward to tell their stories of discrimination and harassment at the hands of those in power.
In light of these developments, employees expect their leaders to rest their values and workplace policies.
“We need to ask what can we do about it?
“It starts by taking a more responsible approach to leadership and continues with a concerted effort to change the way organisations monitor employee interaction throughout the company.”
Andrews noted that leaders need to “move beyond check-the-box engagement metrics to dig in and do deeper work developing transparent cultures. In short, ‘see something, say something’.”

Generation inclusion
“Generation Z’s university graduates are entering the workforce full-time, changing the fabric of the workforce,” says Andrews.
“Gen Z came of age during the 2008 economic crisis, and many within the generation are more interested in job stability than their millennial peers, who have gained a job-hopper reputation.Employers should be thinking about fostering growth opportunities rather than simply looking to pay them more to keep them loyal.”

Mixed generational management will be at the top and throughout organisations, with Gen X and millennials leading, while boomers and traditionalists migrate to project and consultative contractor roles, Andrews noted.

The necessity for employers to offer their staff a palette of places, presence and postures, thereby giving complete choice and control over where and how they work, has never been greater than it is now.

“Older millennials are entering the C-Suite, and they will be asking boomers to help them as advisers, coaches, or mentors,” he adds.

Flexible, remote and freelance work
Globally, the importance of flexible work for both the already-employed and for job seekers can’t be understated.
“In addition, telecommuting and working from home is on the rise too,” says Andrews. “Not only will more companies invest in remote workers, but those who require workers on site will do everything possible to make work feel like home. Developers will adapt with mixed-use developments that bring workers closer to the office.”

Andrews noted that Inspiration Office has changed its furniture offering in the past few years along with these trends to meet the demand for more comfortable, less formal office spaces at rates that don’t break the bank.

There is also a rapid rise in the freelance workforce in South Africa and around the world. In the US for instance, the freelance is growing more than three times faster than the U.S. workforce overall. The number of U.S. freelancers now stands at 57.3 million, representing an 8.1% jump over the last three years.

Robots and AI
A recent report on the future of work from McKinsey noted that as many as 375m workers around the world may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills, because in about 60% of jobs, at least one-third of the work can be automated.

“It isn’t cause for alarm just yet,” Andrews noted. “Only 5% of jobs can be completely eliminated by automation. But it does mean that workers need to be prepared to make a change by learning new skills and constantly adapting.”

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes part of even more technologies from Amazon’s Alexa to smart home devices and cloud computing platforms, demand for workers skilled in artificial intelligence will rise.

Will your job be taken over by robots?

A new report published by the World Economic Forum casts a grim light on the future of jobs across the world, with 1.4 million US jobs alone expected to disrupted by technology and other factors between now and 2026.

The report is an analysis of nearly 1,000 job types across the US economy, encompassing 96% of employment in the country. Its aim is to assess the scale of the re-skilling task required to protect workforces from an expected wave of automation brought on by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Drawing on this data for the US economy, the report found that 57% of jobs expected to be disrupted belong to women. In addition, the report found that if called on today to move to another job with skills that match their own, 16% of workers would have no opportunities to transition and another 25% would have only between one and three matches.

At the other end of the spectrum, 2% of workers have more than 50 options. This group makes up a very small, fortunate minority, as on average all workers would have 10 transition options today.

The positive finding of the report is the huge opportunity identified for re-skilling to lift wages and increase social mobility.

With re-skilling, for example, the average worker in the US economy would have 48 viable job transitions – nearly as much as the 2% with the most options today. Among those transitions, 24 jobs would lead to higher wages.

South Africa

Re-skilling may also ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether the South African economy survives the fourth industrial revolution.

According to a report released by global consultancy Accenture in January 2018, 35% of all jobs in South Africa are currently at risk of total automation, meaning machines can perform 75% of the activities that make up these jobs.

Accenture said that both blue and white-collar jobs are at risk.

“The jobs of clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction-, mining- and maintenance workers all fall into this category,” it said.

Hard-to-automate jobs (those with a lower risk of automation) include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers, Accenture said.

Similar to the WEF’s findings, Accenture found that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 20% (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14%(2.5 million).

“Digital is a growth multiplier. Digital technologies are ushering in a new economic era by overcoming the physical limitations of capital and labour, exposing new sources of value and growth, increasing efficiency and driving competitiveness, said Dr Roze Phillips, MD for Accenture Consulting in Africa.

“However, for countries like South Africa that are less prepared for human-machine collaboration, digital technologies may bring more job losses than gains.”

“South Africa cannot hesitate – it must start now. To succeed, leaders must act swiftly to re-imagine work, pivot the workforce and scale up ‘new skilling’,” said Phillips.

Source: Business Tech 

Automation could kill 800m jobs worldwide

As many as 800-million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to robots and automation by 2030, equivalent to more than a fifth of today’s global labour force.

That’s according to a new report covering 46 nations and more than 800 occupations by the research arm of McKinsey & Co.

The consulting company said on Wednesday that both developed and emerging countries will be impacted. Machine operators, fast-food workers and back-office employees are among those who will be most affected if automation spreads quickly through the workplace.

Even if the rise of robots is less rapid, some 400-million workers could still find themselves displaced by automation and would need to find new jobs over the next 13 years, the McKinsey Global Institute study found.

The good news for those displaced is that there will be jobs for them to transition into, although in many cases they’re going to have to learn new skills to do the work. Those jobs will include health-care providers for aging populations, technology specialists and even gardeners, according to the report.

“We’re all going to have to change and learn how to do new things over time,” Michael Chui, a San Francisco-based partner at the institute, said in an interview.

Reported by Rich Miller for Bloomberg LP on Tech Central

Botnets: robots to avoid

Malware has been around in some form for over 40 years, but the use of malware to take control of a group of computers that are then organised into something called a botnet is more than a 21st century phenomenon, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET Southern Africa.

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