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Technology and the Future of Insurance Work

During a recent episode of the CBC’s business news show, The Exchange with Amanda Lang, the host discussed the future of broadcast TV.  After concluding that the death of broadcast was closer than expected, Ms. Lang said, “Hopefully we’ll still be doing what we do.”

The impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the future of work strikes close to home for knowledge workers, according to the result of a recent study by Pew Research.

We’d like to hear from you on this:  Will technology replace a significant number of knowledge worker jobs in insurance?  Will technology offer new jobs?  At the end of the day, will this be a net gain or loss?

What’s the issue?

In marking the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web, Pew Research Center has canvassed a large population of  experts on the impact of the Web and its future.  The most recent publication, AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, received input from 1,896 experts.

There was consensus that “robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries.”  However, there was deep division on the impact on employment and the overall economic picture.

Walking the Happy Path …

Slightly over half (52%) of respondents “expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025.”  Jobs will be changed or eliminated, but the respondents “have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.”

Members of this group feel that workers will be needed to create, distribute, service and support the technologies.  Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, writes: “Now more than ever, an army of talented coders is needed to help our technology advance. But we will still need folks to do packaging, assembly, sales, and outreach. The collar of the future is a hoodie.”

Some members of of the sanguine set feel that the penetration of the advanced technologies will be slower than expected.  Others believe that economics will force governments to step in if necessary.  Andrew Rens, chief council at the Shuttleworth Foundation, writes: “any country that wants a competitive economy will ensure that most of its citizens are employed so that in turn they can pay for goods and services.”

Over on the rainy side of the street …

The other 48% of Pew respondents see various shades of grey, ending in black for some workers.

Addressing the ‘jobs change’ argument, Tom Standage, digital editor of The Economist, notes “Previous technological revolutions happened much more slowly, so people had longer to retrain, and [also] moved people from one kind of unskilled work to another.”

The economic effects will include greater income disparity, according to a number of respondents.  Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, puts it simply: “Jobs left by 2025 will be lower paying/less secure than today’s. The middle is moving to the bottom.”

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, uses self-driving vehicles as an example: “widespread use of autonomous cars and trucks will be the immediate end of taxi drivers and truck drivers.”  Boyd adds an important factoid: “truck driver is the number-one occupation for men in the U.S..”

There are points of consensus … 

All agree that we are not investing widely in the next generation of worker.  Bryan Alexander, technology consultant, futurist, and senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, puts it well:  “The education system is not well positioned to transform itself to help shape graduates who can ‘race against the machine.’”

In addition, a number of respondents, including Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, emphasize that the rise of robotics will allow a shorter work week. (We have some skepticism here, and wonder what the average work week looks like at Google.)

What does this mean for insurance?

Seems that financial services and insurance are close to the eye of the target for employment changes from  new technology.  We’d like to know where you see employment going in the insurance industry.

Do you think that we’ll change our job functions and end up with the same number of folks (or more)?  Or will the technology allow us (or force us, in order to pay for the technology) to get leaner on the employment side.

Leave us a note.  Our robotic editor will read every reply.

3 Comments

Catherine Kargas

Whatever side of the AI equation you are on, you recognize that there will be job displacement. Will the AI economy create more jobs than it eliminates? No one has a crystal ball but our economy has demonstrated to us time and again that new jobs are created after every wave of industrialization, automation. However, governments need to get involved, recognize the trends and prepare our economy for the next series of jobs. Our academic institutions need to prepare to skill those who will build tomorrow’s economy. We are told that within the next few years, we’ll need over 100,000 specialists to work on drones. These people don’t exist today. Shouldn’t we be preparing these people? As a society, we have every advantage to want to prepare them. These are relatively high paying jobs – certainly higher paying than the jobs they will eliminate.

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Insurance-Canada.ca BlogEditor

Excellent point, Catherine. With the magnitude of the change and the time frames involved, do you think governments can respond in a timely fashion? Or would we be better served with private sector initiatives, perhaps run through educational associations such as ITAC, or even the Insurance Institute?
-Ed.

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