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AI, automation, and the future of work: Ten things to solve for

As machines increasingly complement human labor in the workplace, we will all need to adjust to reap the benefits.

This executive briefing, which draws on the latest research from the McKinsey Global Institute, examines both the promise and the challenge of automation and AI in the workplace and outlines some of the critical issues that policy makers, companies, and individuals will need to solve for.

Our research suggests that society needs these improvements to provide value for businesses, contribute to economic growth, and make once unimaginable progress on some of our most difficult societal challenges.

In summary: Beyond traditional industrial automation and advanced robots, new generations of more capable autonomous systems are appearing in environments ranging from autonomous vehicles on roads to automated check-outs in grocery stores.

AI has made especially large strides in recent years, as machine-learning algorithms have become more sophisticated and made use of huge increases in computing power and of the exponential growth in data available to train them.

These technologies are already generating value in various products and services, and companies across sectors use them in an array of processes to personalize product recommendations, find anomalies in production, identify fraudulent transactions, and more.

An analysis we conducted of several hundred AI use cases found that the most advanced deep learning techniques deploying artificial neural networks could account for as much as $3.5 trillion to $5.8 trillion in annual value, or 40 percent of the value created by all analytics techniques (Exhibit 1).

Deployment of AI and automation technologies can do much to lift the global economy and increase global prosperity, at a time when aging and falling birth rates are acting as a drag on growth.

Labor productivity growth, a key driver of economic growth, has slowed in many economies, dropping to an average of 0.5 percent in 2010–2014 from 2.4 percent a decade earlier in the United States and major European economies, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis after a previous productivity boom had waned.

AI and automation have the potential to reverse that decline: productivity growth could potentially reach 2 percent annually over the next decade, with 60 percent of this increase from digital opportunities.

For example, explaining decisions made by machine learning algorithms is technically challenging, which particularly matters for use cases involving financial lending or legal applications.

Among countries, US investment in AI ranked first at $15 billion to $23 billion in 2016, followed by Asia’s investments of $8 billion to $12 billion, with Europe lagging behind at $3 billion to $4 billion.

Adoption will continue to vary significantly across countries and sectors because of differences in the above factors, especially labor-market dynamics: in advanced economies with relatively high wage levels, such as France, Japan, and the United States, automation could displace 20 to 25 percent of the workforce by 2030, in a midpoint adoption scenario, more than double the rate in India.

We developed scenarios for labor demand to 2030 from several catalysts of demand for work, including rising incomes, increased spending on healthcare, and continuing or stepped-up investment in infrastructure, energy, and technology development and deployment.

These scenarios showed a range of additional labor demand of between 21 percent to 33 percent of the global workforce (555 million and 890 million jobs) to 2030, more than offsetting the numbers of jobs lost.

For example, the introduction of the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s created millions of jobs not just for semiconductor makers, but also for software and app developers of all types, customer-service representatives, and information analysts.

Our research suggests that, in a midpoint scenario, around 3 percent of the global workforce will need to change occupational categories by 2030, though scenarios range from about 0 to 14 percent.

High-wage jobs will grow significantly, especially for high-skill medical and tech or other professionals, but a large portion of jobs expected to be created, including teachers and nursing aides, typically have lower wage structures.

The risk is that automation could exacerbate wage polarization, income inequality, and the lack of income advancement that has characterized the past decade across advanced economies, stoking social, and political tensions.

Government, private-sector leaders, and innovators all need to work together to better coordinate public and private initiatives, including creating the right incentives to invest more in human capital.

AI and robots will take our jobs - but better ones will emerge for us

An increasingly popular concern is that robots will eat up labour’s share of income at an accelerating rate, leaving ordinary workers impoverished and unemployed.

A common dinner conversation topic in Silicon Valley is universal basic income, and the typical argument advanced for UBI is that we are destined to indefinitely continue losing jobs faster than we replace them.

The information architecture underpinning the work processes of all our major industries is being upgraded to cloud and mobile ecosystems and is leveraging big data in thousands of new ways — a trend we describe in The Smart Enterprise Wave.

We may also experience temporarily higher unemployment as semi-autonomous vehicle technology enables a pair of truck drivers to safely navigate a convoy of multiple trucks.

Roughly 50 per cent of jobs in the US economy have been replaced with new forms of labour every 60 to 90 years.1 Technological unemployment is always scary because it’s hard to understand what the future will hold.

When technological unemployment occurs, laid-off workers seek retraining and private sector leaders create transitional infrastructure to reabsorb them into the economy.

Read more about the Taylor Review on Modern Employment Practices Imagine that you are an average American living in the late 19th century: a time when workplace fatalities were 30 times more likely than current levels, there were rampant disease outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis, and many farmers were barely able to sell enough crops to survive.

As virtual reality hardware and software evolve, whole new historical novels and science fiction adventures will be tailored to people’s individual personalities.

We may eventually see clothing that moulds to your skin and “utility fog” particles that allow rooms and spaces to shape themselves around you and your work, sports, and entertainment.

How we understand and measure communities and influence is likely to change, and new roles will develop for people with different interpersonal skills to contribute to this sector of the economy.

In addition to creating jobs for technologists and scientists working on carbon capture, petrochemical refining, and more, we will continue to open up lower-skill jobs installing solar photovoltaic panels and wind-turbines, and retrofitting energy efficiency monitors and appliances on to older buildings.

New technology will quantify aspects of your emotional reactions, self-discipline, baseline outlook, and a new class of psychological coaches will emerge to help people improve their personalities.

Large numbers of employment opportunities will also emerge for educational tutors, athletic/fitness instructors, love-counsellors, motivational speakers, online/video game content creation and more.

Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” is the prime example of this form of man/machine symbiosis, where workers rank options, perform sentence evaluations, and take short surveys from their devices to share their thoughts and feelings.

As technology enables a greater number of talented individuals to create large amounts of wealth, a plethora of staff roles will emerge for executive and personal assistants: individuals to whom people can delegate organisational, administrative, and communication tasks.

Tens of millions of people wish they had house and event managers, personal assistants, masseuses, personally-tailored chefs, personal trainers, tutors for their children, staff to take care of pets and more.

Nursing jobs, jobs in psychiatry and psychological therapy, business consulting work, human resources positions, cultural interpreter work, and customer experience analysis roles will all open up.

While post-humanism is a fascinating obsession, and many take for granted the notion that computers will soon exceed human beings at nearly everything, I believe that the singularity is much farther away than people imagine.

If we all merge into a godlike super-consciousness or face events of similarly biblical proportion, concerns about employment will pale in comparison to more fundamental questions about the meaning of existence.

But although some in every generation are eager to believe that a version of the messiah is soon to arrive, it is much more likely that in the meantime history will continue to unfold according to the economic logic of innovation, creative destruction, and job growth we saw in the 20th century.

To make sure we’re creating new jobs we need to cut the red-tape of over one million rules that make our economy sclerotic and deter new business formation — and allow the market to rapidly evolve on its own terms to find new ways of employing millions of people.

Focusing on economic flexibility and adaptability — with special attention to eliminating the barriers we’ve accidentally created to the mobility of the working classes — is the right response to technological disruption.

With sound policy in the context of a free and open society, I am optimistic that the coming advances in AI will massively reduce the cost to live a good life, and increase wealth and opportunity for all.

Future-Proof Your Career in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

A day doesn’t go by without another prediction that highlights the influence of technology on jobs.

AI and machine learning (ML) are changing our way of life in more ways than the invention of the PC, the rise of the internet, or the explosive growth of smartphones and tablets.

It’s exciting to see how AI has the potential to take away the mundane tasks associated with our lives and jobs, as well as its potential to boost productivity and create entirely new industries.

Whether you are still in school, making your way through a degree, or have decades of experience in the workplace, here are three areas to develop to remain relevant in an emerging AI workplace and world:

Artificial intelligence and the future jobs you need to upskillfor

At the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon, when Sophia, a humanoid robot powered by artificial intelligence (AI), joked “We will take your jobs,” behind the nervous laughter of the 60,000 attendees was a realisation this could be a reality sooner than they think.

Hence, businesses are going to great lengths to ensure they are equipped to use this deluge of data to their advantage—for delivering a higher quality of services and products to customers, and staying ahead of competitors.

From powering recommendation engines of Google, Netflix, Amazon that push personalised content towards consumers, to performing complex functions like data and cybersecurity, financial trading and fraud detection, AI can perform a range of functions.

But the application of AI and Machine Learning is largely limited to functions like collecting and processing data, and hence a skilled human workforce is essential for creative tasks and roles that demand human skills, and qualities like emotional intelligence.

It’s more likely, then, that humans will continue to guide machines, and dominate jobs that require essential skills such as interpersonal relations, emotional range and complexity, dexterity, and mobility, as opposed to the idea that machines will make us redundant.

The current workforce, both employed and unemployed, should have access to reskilling and upskilling opportunities, and businesses must identify the skills that employees must have, and provide them with the right training.

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