For decades, at least some economists made the assumption that, for every job lost to a robot or automated process, the evolving economy would add at least a few more. If a robot took your job building widgets, the idea went, you could still get a job (with sufficient retraining) fixing the widget-building robot.
But according to The New York Times, there’s an emerging view that automation is weighing down on employment. “This is the biggest challenge of our society for the next decade,” Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at MIT, told the newspaper. Nor does Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, reportedly believe that the jobs lost to automation are being replaced.
While robots and software have become increasingly sophisticated in a relatively short period of time, it remains to be seen whether the human labor force can adapt to what some are calling a paradigm shift in how the economy works. Forget factory workers losing their jobs to line robots—what happens when a machine develops the capability to act as a health inspector or even a restaurant critic?
This trend will certainly affect tech pros in increasing numbers. Over the past few years, software and hardware vendors have redoubled their efforts to automate many processes that once required highly specialized IT workers. Once upon a time, a company required an army of IT administrators and support staff to maintain a data center; but thanks to automation, even a massive data center only requires a handful of people to keep running effectively.
For IT workers, that automation increases the pressure to learn multiple skills, rather than specializing in one or two. Hardware specialists may need to know how to code in multiple languages, for example; infrastructure experts in charge of complex and converging systems could find themselves building more apps. The alternative is potential elimination as software becomes better at dedicated tasks.
- Meet the Robot Tasked With Tasting Thai Food
- The Future of Robots: Soft, Flexible, Squeezable
- How Automation Is Dooming Entry-Level IT Jobs