Does technology create or destroy jobs?
Many claim new technological advances pose a threat to employment as real people are replaced by software - but is this really the case?
Those who believe that technology is having a detrimental effect on jobs often point to industries like manufacturing, where machines are now carrying out the work that people used to do. A more recent example is the services industry, with the introduction of self-checkouts.
However, these machines, and the software they use, still need people to update and maintain them. As a result, the opposite side of the argument holds that new technologies help to provide jobs – people just need to have the correct training.
Martina King, CEO of Featurespace, gives a run-down of the reasoning behind these two positions: “We are currently witnessing the next wave of job automation. Roles that will be impacted in the near future include accountancy, actuarial modelling, customer intervention operatives, and even pilots and taxi drivers (if Google’s driverless cars capture the imagination).
“On the plus side, it’s an exciting time for careers in data science, engineering and development, roles which – although performed on computers – are largely an intellectual exercise, and are required to develop and build the models to analyse vast amounts of data.”
It may always remain true that there are certain jobs and functions that only human minds can do – and no one can deny that the tech industry has seen a huge boom. Over the last few years, the sector has created almost 30,000 new jobs - an increase of more than 17 per cent - and unemployment as a whole in Britain recently hit a seven-year low.
There are also those who feel that recent steps in technology could in fact make society more productive by introducing higher efficiency. Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr, says: “The challenge for technology is to make a process not only more efficient but more effective.”
Drawing on the example of the hiring process, he continued: “The focus needs to move to more effective hiring, and how technology and data can find the right person that will integrate well into the team and improve business results.”
Chris Martin, CTO at Powwownow, notes that the modernisation of the workplace will help employees in their day-to-day work life, as well as stimulating the growth of jobs in the first place, saying that businesses and employees have begun to realise the benefits to productivity which technology can offer.
“Technology allows people to work flexibly and fit their working schedules around other aspects of their lives, i.e. looking after a young family. This enhances the country’s productivity as employees are still able to work their allotted hours a week but do so at their convenience.”
He also looks further into the future, speculating on the role of AI in the workplace – and with the development of robotic workers such as Nao being trialled in Japanese banks, this reality may not be so far off. But this does not have to be a bad thing.
“As advancements in artificial intelligence emerge and integrate with sensor technologies, artificial intelligence personal assistants will take away the more mundane tasks which will allow people more time to think and focus on new business and life opportunities,” Mr Martin says.
As with so many things within the tech industry, only time can tell; but, it seems that technological advances are most likely to be positive for the workforce.