In February 2019, Adaptavist sent me - a content-marketer and resident Young Person - to join a panel organised by ThinkNation and the Economic Singularity Club to find out what under 25s think about the effect automation will have on our futures.
I was joined on the panel by a group of Millennials and Gen-Zs from all different backgrounds and sectors; Brandon Relph, an 18 year old entrepreneur, Arohi Jain, an economist, Rob O'Connor, an expert in Amazon Alexa development, and Kieran Cranston, a motivational speaker for young people.
The panel focused on the question ‘Will 2045 be one long gap year?’ and encouraged participants to engage with how automation will affect careers, jobs, the economy, and social order in the not-too-distant future.
The entire event was recorded and turned into an episode of the Z - X Spectrum podcast, which you can listen to here.
These are some of the key points the panellists made about how we think automation will affect our futures:
There will always be work
All the panellists concluded that humans derive purpose and fulfilment from doing work. Even if all jobs are automated and we no longer need to do jobs to survive, we will still find useful, productive, and creative things to do.
In the short-term, most panellists hoped that automation would be used for lower-level, repetitive tasks, such as data entry, freeing up young workers to be creative and autonomous earlier in their career.
Our study into how modern employees think about automation found a similar hope; 78 percent of respondents said that while they think that automation technology will inevitably take some jobs, it will create higher-value jobs.
Education is vital for a successful transition
All the panellists agreed that large scale changes will need to be made to the education system to prepare youngsters for sharing their work-life with increasing levels of automation.
Kieran in particular felt that businesses have a responsibility to work with schools and the education sector, to help create learning paths that won’t leave people behind as the pace of change continues to increase.
“What we’re discussing today, may be alien to the educators themselves because they don’t know enough about it. They may find it really difficult to reach out to businesses to come work with schools. This change needs to be lead by the businesses implementing the changes, rather than the responsibility being on young people. That means businesses really need to take schools more seriously,” says Kieran.
Panelists also agreed that education will need to shift away from teaching set skills, focusing instead on preparing young people to always be learning and adapting to new technologies in their careers.
The changes might not be a big as we think
While everyone agreed that automation will cause a lot of disruption to the way we work, many panelists felt the changes might not be as sweeping as some people believe. “Technological automation isn’t something new. We’ve been here before, we’ve been through the industrial revolution. There are reasons for optimism because we did create more jobs and jobs that we couldn’t think of 50 years ago, or 150 years ago,” says Arohi.
Similarly, our survey showed that the majority of current employees are optimistic about the changes caused by automation, suggesting it’s nothing to be feared, but there’s still a long way to go.
A guest from the audience also added; “More work actually came with better, quicker technology. In terms of artificial intelligence, is having no computers in the workplace to computers now being a staple of every work desk a bigger jump than having the tech we have now to having tech that can do more jobs for us?”
Automation, we've been here before
This current wave of automation has been dubbed as ‘Cognitive Automation’ or ‘White Collar automation’ as it focuses on automating mental workloads. We’ve already lived through the Industrial Revolution, which completely upended the general approach to work and labour. While all the panellists agreed that this Automation revolution will have huge and far-reaching consequences, it might not actually be the uncharted waters it’s made out to be.
How do you think automation will change the way we work? Join the conversation using the hashtag #FutureofAutomation
Read our full Future of Automation report: