Remember the oft-told myth about the US patent office chief wanting to shut down the office at the turn of the 20th century because just about everything that could be invented already had been? The modern version is that just about every job that can be created already has been, as critics of artificial intelligence argue that AI-powered automation and decision-making will inevitably lead to rising unemployment.
What those critics are missing is the fact that technological innovations will create all manner of net new and unforeseen employment opportunities in the years to come—just as they have in decades past.
When Bell Labs invented the transistor in the 1940s, no one could have predicted the countless number of IT products, services, vendors, vendor ecosystems, and adjacent industries it would spawn worldwide. Instead, people worried that computers would replace scads of existing jobs. As it turned out, they did: telephone and elevator operators, office clerks, and other occupations that lent themselves to automation and digitization. But computers also went on to create millions of high-paying technology jobs and trillions of dollars in profitable revenues that no one ever imagined.
By one estimate, computers and other software-driven machines already have taken over 90% of the jobs—many of them backbreaking—that people once did. Yet the US economy is humming along at a record-low 3.7% unemployment rate. Clearly, as technology advances eliminated farm, assembly line, financial services, and many other jobs over the decades, many more were continuously created.
Jobs We Haven’t Thought of Yet
Given that context, I recently predicted at our Oracle OpenWorld 2018 event that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will change the global economy and tech industry so fast in the coming years that roughly 60% of the IT jobs that will exist in 2025 haven’t even been invented yet.
Try these positions on for size: supervisor of AI-powered robots (it won’t be long before we see bots on org charts); algorithm auditor (who makes sure the bots are doing what’s expected); AI-assisted healthcare technician; specialist in human-machine user experience; even quantum programmer.
Furthermore, I see current IT professions expanding and evolving thanks to AI and other emerging technologies, just as the accounting profession did with the advent of spreadsheets.
For example, the job of database administrator will fundamentally change because of the new Oracle Autonomous Database, which uses machine learning to take over nearly all of the manual work of provisioning, tuning, and patching a database. Instead of putting DBAs out of work, the Autonomous Database will free them to take on higher-level responsibilities, such as analyzing company data to unlock competitive insights and spending more time with developers to build applications to wow customers. In fact, the IT profession overall will evolve from performing tasks (the kind better left to computers) to driving business value.
Let’s not underestimate the power of the personal touch—human presence, empathy, creativity, flexibility—informed by machine-generated intelligence. Bots can’t lead, motivate, or invent. As futurist Sophie Hackford told Oracle OpenWorld attendees last month: “This is not a race against the machines, but rather with them.”
In profession after profession, not just IT-specific ones, technological progress means that people can spend fewer hours on the drudgery of updating systems, approving and filing forms, and monitoring transactions—and more time doing work that improves people’s lives: creating new sources of renewable energy, growing food more productively, developing medical treatments and cures.
Meanwhile, there’s no ignoring the demographic fact that low birth rates in many industrialized countries signal labor shortages to come worldwide. For example, Japan, whose working-age population has been declining since the late 1990s, sees digitization and automation as a solution to its labor problems, not as a contributor.
The employment challenge ahead isn’t about surviving the robotic overlords. It’s about putting a higher priority on education, career training, and lifelong learning to prepare people for tomorrow’s ever-changing jobs, many of which we can’t even imagine today. When it comes to AI, I’m an optimist.
This job-creation engine is just getting started.