The robotics revolution is well underway. Thanks to rapid technological advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), automation, engineering, and energy storage, machines are primed to replace humans in the workforce.
But will machines replace humans in 2021?
The short answer is “not exactly.” An even better answer is “it depends.” In 2021, most of us grinding day in and day out aren’t at risk of being replaced. At least not yet.
Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the push to embrace the machines and jobs of the future. In some cases, it has already replaced staff who weren’t recalled after lockdown.
According to the Oxford Economics report, “How Robots Change the World,” the number of robots used across the planet multiplied three-fold over the last twenty years to 2.25 million. This suggests that it’ll multiply even faster over the next decade, with a whopping 20 million robots in action by 2030, with 14 million in China alone.
Robots in the workplace will boost productivity and economic growth. As machines take over mundane, repetitive tasks, human workers are free to concentrate on more meaningful work and learn new skills. Robots in the workplace also come with the promise of creating new jobs in industries that don’t even exist yet.
But in the near future, some of us have to brace ourselves for the changes that are almost upon us. Research suggests that existing business models across industries will be severely disrupted (and millions of jobs lost). Oxford Economics goes further and estimates as much as 20 million manufacturing jobs lost to robots by 2030.
But for now, it’s safe to say that most of us will work alongside machines, not replaced by them.
In early 2020, companies sent many workers home to comply with restrictions and “the new norm.” Unfortunately, in some sections, the pandemic accelerated the process of bringing robots into the workplace(replacing them for good).
For example, Walmart, the biggest retailer in North America, now uses robots to scrub its floors. To encourage social distancing and have less staff physically at work, robots perform tasks in the workplace (whenever it’s impossible to complete remotely).
In South Korea, robots perform temperature checks and distribute hand sanitizers. As experts predict the new normal to continue for another few months, we might see more machines greeting us and checking to see if it’s safe to enter.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the following jobs are at risk of being replaced by robotic process automation over the next five years:
Fast-food giant McDonalds is already testing robot cooks. Amazon already has robots working in their warehouses. But it’s not just jobs that demand physical labor.
Tech giants like Facebook and Google already leverage AI to remove more inappropriate content. This approach also helps ensure privacy and compliance. As these smart algorithms get even more intelligent, expect to see robot financial advisors and healthcare workers.
If your job title is on the list above, it’s time to start upskilling. While the demand for the above positions continues to drop, there will be significant demand for jobs like data analysts and scientists, AI and ML specialists, and big data specialists.
However, even if your job isn’t on the list, we all have to make an effort to learn new things and make ourselves valuable (to employers). There will be new careers up for grabs, and 2021 is the perfect year to start preparing. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, more jobs will be created over the next few years than those lost to machines.
Businesses that strive to maintain a competitive advantage are better off concentrating on upskilling staff. This is because holding on to the human element is still vital and helps build loyalty with customers and employees.
Going into 2021, I would say that machines won’t replace humans entirely. At least not in 2021 or the year after. Instead, this will be the year to learn new skills and make ourselves indispensable across industries. It’ll also be the year where more of us engage with smart algorithms.
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