The Automation Apocalypse

wazoku News

The robots are coming. They’ve wiped out the luddites now they’re coming for you. It’s a statement easy to believe judging by current hysteria around automation, a hysteria that seems to have reached a new peak.

But as far back as 1978, Prime Minister James Callaghan was enlisting a think tank to tackle, “silicon chips that are programmed to do the dull and repetitive jobs in industry and commerce.”- This at a time when the White House’s first computer was operating on 16kb of memory. It might not be time to stock up on baked beans/protect Sarah Connor just yet, but there are three vital things to consider to realise the opportunity automation presents:

  1. The social and political climate this new wave of automation exists within.
  2. What ‘type’ of jobs will be affected.
  3. The irreplaceable value of human capital.

At the tail end of 2016 a paper was published by the outgoing US administration. “Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy” was delivered by a party that had been ousted by the promise to restore America to its former glory; a promise interpreted by many as a vow to restore blue collar jobs in ‘rust belt’ communities. Barack Obama, in his final presidential address, stated; “the next wave of economic dislocations will come not from globalisation, but from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle-class jobs redundant.”

Most speculation around job losses focuses either on manufacturing, where jobs have steadily been replaced and redefined over the past three decades, or the automotive industry, where autonomous cars make the news every second day. But one place overlooked, where jobs have already been replaced, is financial services. Trading jobs at the NYSE have shrunk from 5,500 at the turn of the millennium to less than 400 today. Entry level and graduate jobs, often known as ‘analyst’ roles risk complete extinction. The notoriously gruelling task of sifting through data to create a financial argument could be made redundant by big data and machine learning – combined correctly, this can operate at a fraction of the cost and without the penchant for mistakes. Commerzbank has been brazen about its automation plans, releasing plans to digitalise 80% of its processes within 3 years. The offset? 9,600 full time jobs.

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