Looking back at our recent history, there’s validity and reason for our societal obsession and almost feverish fear of machines replacing human labour for good. But will robots actually take our jobs anytime soon? Approaching what can only be seen as the third wave of automation, what’s expected to happen in the near future seems much more daunting and intimidating than any other previous job loss crisis in history. A study from Oxford University claims that a whopping total of 47 per cent of all US jobs are at risk of termination, or rather upgrading in terms of hiring—no humans need apply. But how worried should we really be?
Even though we’ve been forced to understand the detrimental effects of the previous waves of automation, it’s important to note that with each wave, there has never been any actual job losses, as gains in productivity have eventually always led to more jobs. The true issue has been the disparity in technical skills that are needed for people to find jobs, once they’ve been automated out of their own field.
The first wave of automation came with the industrial movement. Beginning with machines helping discharge humans of manual and physical labour, this wave was known for taking workers off of farms and into factories. Many people lost their jobs, but it is important to note that all this work was exhausting, both manually and mentally. The second wave helped tackle tedious and dull work, typically affecting office workers who were performing excruciatingly repetitive tasks. Think telephone operators or the women who were the original calculators at NASA prior to computers being accessible.
The third era, and the one we are fast approaching, will be one which will not affect those in the farms, or factories, or even those doing dull tasks. Rather, machine replacements will be stealing jobs from what we can categorise now as knowledge workers or decision-makers. Educated people with university backgrounds and degrees in subjects that were always considered safe—until now. To put it simply, AI is becoming better at making decisions than we are and the next few decades will see the result of this incredibly quick change. We are witness to it now, with articles gushing over how smart machines are beating us in Go and Jeopardy, but soon these machines will be completely changing the job market, in absolutely all industries.
After reading tips on how to find our first job, how do we prepare and shift our skill sets to guarantee ourselves some sort of job-centric security? Technology is changing faster than laws and policies are able to react, making it even harder for individuals to equip themselves for what’s to come. An obvious answer, but one that’s consistently sidelined, is education: teaching people what they need to know in order to have the skills they need for jobs that will be available. In the past, waves of automation haven’t been as easy to predict, but even with the future as unclear and fast-paced as it is now, education is a clear answer to help solve the disparity between the skills demanded and the skills had. It’s mandatory to learn how to read and write, thus coding only seems to be the next logical step.
Canada, with its mid-size economy and stereotypically friendly political demeanour, has set some plans forward to deal with whatever dangers lay ahead. The onus lies on provinces to decide their own educational curriculum, as long as it meets country-wide goals with testing. Due to a decline in the country’s more traditional and dominating industries, British Columbia has recognised a new fast-growing industry for itself—the tech industry. In Canada alone, there’s already a demand issue for the number of tech jobs available, without enough people applying for them.
The region’s plan moving forward into this industry begins with education. The western province will be introducing mandatory coding in its school curriculum from kindergarten all the way through to 12th grade. While at the age of 13 my generation was learning to use Word programmes to create pamphlets, it will be expected of kids to learn a variety of computing programmes, as well as learn how to debug algorithms, have skills in visual programming, and then further on in high school have the opportunity to specialise in particular areas of technology—rather than taking a one time intro to coding course.
Canada isn’t necessarily being innovative in its tactics either, as other countries such as Britain and Australia have taken similar measures within their education curriculums. The world is getting ready for the nearing and possibly most disruptive decade in history—technologically speaking. My only question now lies with how my generation will be able to not only adapt, but compete. Growing up with technology, we’ve evolved as the different versions of iPhones have come and gone. Very early on we can remember a time without constant social media and instant messaging, but are still familiar enough with the tools to know how to navigate every new update. The future is tech, and while it might be coming for your job, it’s also creating new ones.
In recent years, the digital media landscape has seen an array of trends—the rise of clickbait and fluff articles emerging from ad-generated revenue models, and positive feedback loops created by social media middlemen in the grand scheme of timeline catering. Changes in business models led to the thriving success of some and the bankruptcy of others. Throughout this volatility, the world of journalism has been disrupted by technology just like any other industry, and with that, the era of digitisation might have saved the dying world of the newspaper, but the introduction of AI journalism might very well be able to provide the news industry with a solution to its newest problem: keeping up with the speed of information.
In many main news publications, AI has been a crucial aspect of their growth strategy for the last few years. The immediate creation of financial reports, sports articles, and pieces focused on national disaster are being handed over to our machine counterparts. Soon, robot journalism will seep into just about anything that falls under some sort of numbers-based reporting.
The rise of machine-generated journalism is inevitable, and one that we shouldn’t want to push away. Currently, about one-third of all content on Bloomberg News uses some sort of automated technology, while Forbes is testing out an AI technology that will help create rough drafts and templates for reporters. The WSJ and Dow Jones are both experimenting with technology that can transcribe interviews, and Wired constantly plays around with AI written science fiction stories and scripts. Some extremities have even seen an attempt at replacing human news anchors with machine ones, like the recently introduced AI news anchor in China.
With the world around us bursting with upgrades, it seems that gradually everything around us is becoming excitingly infused with the technology of the future. Within this constant tech conversation, the world of news and its gizmos is no exception. What the use of AI journalism in some of the world’s staple media publishers shows is just how much more intrinsically connected robots are to journalism than we currently assume. So why is our initial feeling towards robot written articles ones of uneasiness?
At the end of the day, if done properly, AI is able to crunch numbers better and faster than we’ll ever be able to. As robot generated journalism takes over the responsibility of producing these reports and articles, journalists will have more time to tackle investigative, in-depth pieces that demand humility and a moral compass (so you would hope). Arguably, now more than ever there is a need for journalists to be able to provide think-pieces that hold governments and powerful players accountable.
The integration of AI journalism will quite possibly lead to a strengthened trust in news and journalism, as the intelligence landscape of news outlets becomes more competitive. The journalistic standard has and always will stay the same, and the integration of AI will only help us better achieve that level of standard.
With the current pattern of those consuming the news being reading small, mainstream, information-heavy pieces, the focus has been on utilising human capital to create those repetitive and simple pieces. With the projected use of automation though, computer-authored journalism will give way for journalists to pursue less mechanical stories, and focus instead on ones that are of higher quality and of a more investigative nature.
The upcoming technological reshaping in the newsroom is going to be incredibly disruptive. Robots will be able to automate certain aspects of reporters and their jobs, but more importantly, augment their abilities to do real investigative, opinion-based journalism. With the automation of redundant and labour-intensive reports, the availability of human capital to focus on less repetitive work will result in humans being able to do what we do best: having an opinion, providing perspectives, being curious, and extracting some sense other than numbers and figures from what’s happening around us.