Is your job safe from robots?

AUTOMATION: Hitachi's customer service and guidance robot EMIEW3 is capable of assisting a tourist from a foreign country.


    May 06, 2016

    Is your job safe from robots?


    SOME of the richest, smartest and most powerful people in the world have an important message to convey as they convened this week to discuss pressing global issues: The robots are coming.

    At the Milken Institute's Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, at least four panels so far have focused on technology and its impact on jobs.

    "Most of the benefits we see from automation is about higher quality and fewer errors, but in many cases it does reduce labour," Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, said on Tuesday during a panel on Is Any Job Truly Safe?

    The four-day annual conference, which began on Sunday, has 3,500 invite-only participants exploring the theme: The Future Of Human Kind.

    Technology has not only done away with low-wage, low-skill jobs, some of the more than 700 speakers said.

    They also cited robots operating trucks in Australian mines.

    Corporate litigation software was replacing employees with advanced degrees who used to sift through thousands of documents prior to trials.

    And, on Wall Street, there is automation of jobs that were previously done by highly educated bankers.

    "Anyone whose job is moving data from one spreadsheet to another... that's what is going to get automated," said Daniel Nadler, chief executive of Kensho, a financial services analytics company.

    Big banks have slashed tens of thousands of jobs in recent years, spurred by businesses like bond trading that have become less profitable.

    Under tremendous pressure from investors to boost profits but unable to grow revenue much, banks have increasingly turned to technology to reduce costs.

    A Citigroup report in March suggested that more pain is on the way for financial industry staff.

    Analysts predicted a 30 per cent drop in banking jobs across the United States and Europe over the next decade.

    Martin Ford, an author and entrepreneur, argued that while the so-called gig economy has created temporary jobs for independent contractors, the next step is to get rid of them.

    The ride-hailing service Uber, for example, is investing heavily in building cars that do not need drivers, he noted.

    David Siegel, co-chairman of quantitative hedge fund Two Sigma, blamed technology for income problems that have led to political upheavals around the world over the past several years.

    "One of the big causes for the stagnation of middle class wages is essentially because of clever computer programs," he added said during a panel about artificial intelligence.

    Some panellists were less dire in their assessments.

    Billionaire investor Steve Cohen said it would take a while before robots replace stockpickers like himself.

    Kate Mitchell, co-founder of Scale Venture Partners, said freelance sites have allowed workers to supplement their income.

    "It's easy to villainise technology but there is a lot of opportunity at the same time."