People vs. technology: why do we still hire humans?

3 minute read

Over the past few years, automation and machine learning have developed at a rapid rate. Apps such as Uber and “digital assistants” like Siri and Alexa have already transformed the way we do everyday tasks. Innovation is changing businesses too, and this is only set to continue  In 2016, it was predicted that 6% of US jobs would be lost to robots and automation by 2021, but the pandemic has actually led to an even greater rate of automation, with the main losses being felt in transportation, logistics, customer services, banking, retail, and healthcare. So what role can humans continue to play in an increasingly automated workplace?

At present, machine learning remains limited and flawed. It is therefore important for businesses to understand when automation is, and isn’t, appropriate. Machines that make high-risk decisions still require humans to approve them, as we currently can’t trust machines to make life-or-death or important financial decisions by themselves. As such, new tools need to be applied in the right way and their limits understood. Smart people with skills and experience will play an important role in a world of new and improving technologies.

An estimated 30% of jobs are at high risk of automation by the mid 2030s, while 400,000 were lost to automation in US factories during the pandemic, with about 42% of those likely gone forever. However, technology has also created new jobs, with more set to emerge in the 2020s. Trends suggests that technology will likely lead to a shift in employment patterns from low- to high-skilled work, rather than the elimination of the human workforce altogether.

As job requirements are changing, education will need to change to provide the workforce needed to cope with new technologies and to help existing workers adapt. People will need to be able to use technology effectively but also develop skills that cannot be automated. The traits that are perhaps most valued by employers now are digital knowledge and skills, creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship, and complex problem solving. People with these skillsets are still incredibly valuable to businesses and are more likely to benefit from working with technology than be replaced by it.

Integrating machine learning with the work done by these skilled people can make their jobs easier and increase efficiency. Technology has the potential to fully automate menial tasks, administration, or manufacturing processes, but for other kinds of work the combination of human and machine intelligence can raise both productivity and quality. New technology can help to connect these people and facilitate better communication and coordination, allowing them greater control and providing better information needed to do their jobs.

Ultimately, no amount of technology can currently replace a large number of roles filled by people. Humans are still key in making big decisions, thinking creatively, and providing unique insights. Machines and automation can be great tools but they still require human input, at least for now. If anything, automation is likely to enhance skilled jobs and create more of them.

 

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