Already widely used in the manufacturing sector, AI is coming for white collar jobs. Photo: Stockphoto

Work ethic under threat from AI

There has been a lot of speculation in the startup press about how automation will affect our society. I have written previously about how improvement in artificial intelligence is threatening even white-collar jobs, so it is appropriate to explore what that actually means for us.

We can imagine a future where all industries follow what has happened in the manufacturing sector. Automation takes over all routine jobs, with the only roles left of a highly technical but supervisory nature (people are only there in case something goes wrong).


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Android Park - Nollamara WA
George Orwell's 1984!

PwC recently valued Australia's unpaid economy at $22 trillion. If this figure was included in formal measurements, our total economy would be a third larger than it is now. In fact, quantifying and valuing the time spent on unpaid childcare implies it is a $345 billion sector (in 2011 terms), almost three times larger than the largest sector in our economy – financial and insurance services. Former Google and Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee believes traditionally unpaid roles could become future "service jobs of love". Andrew Charlton, economist and director of AlphaBeta, says: "The challenge is to recognise that those jobs should be paid well. It's a choice for us as a society, community and government to value those types of human jobs well." It has been said that taxi drivers will become 'customer experience' officers – still in the car, just not driving it, but ensuring the customer's journey is comfortable. This is particularly likely to be the case with disabled and older customers. While one person's work ethic as a carer or volunteer could be vastly different to another's, so too can a professional's work ethic. Not everyone in the paid workforce is equally productive. In fact, the growing awareness of 'presenteeism' in the nine to five weekday office work culture gives us reason to pause for thought. As companies become larger, the bureaucracy that necessarily goes with that makes it all the more easy for employees to hide. Having high emotional intelligence and great interpersonal skills is likely to be greatly valued in the future, as no matter how intelligent robots become, humans are going to want to interact with humans for a while yet.

In order to fund living wages, there needs to be a tax on robotics and AI. We are facing the biggest disruptive change ever, all of which presumes that the internet will survive cyber attacks. The world of robotics, AI etc could all come crashing down if the internet does, so we all need to have a personal disaster recovery plan.

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