At several points in my career, I played the ‘evangelist’ role for new technologies. The objective was to get users accustomed to new tools. There were lots of questions, but inevitably I would get the big one: “Will this eliminate my job?”
I had my response down pat: “Technology doesn’t eliminate jobs. It lets you work faster and smarter – leaving boring, repetitious tasks to the computers.”
But These Aren’t the Good Old Days
If I were put in the same role again, I would have to say “Yes, technology could eventually destroy your job. Your best bet is to stay ahead of the new technologies.”
Unfortunately, I think most folks would stop listening after the first comma.
Brian Heater, Hardware Editor at TechCrunch, posted on the evolution of technology and its impact on employment in “Technology is killing jobs, and only technology can save them.”
Beyond the Zen-like title, Heater notes that there are variations in different industry sectors. The most optimistic model for the future is defined by Colin Parris, Vice President of Software research at GE. Heater quotes Parris:
“In the future, we have to embrace robotics. It allows us to reduce cost. If I reduce cost, I have more money that I can use for innovation. The more money I have, the more new products I can create. The more products I create, the more workforce I can hire.”
Specialists at risk
Training may work for some workers, but others, who are highly trained in specific roles that become obsolete, may have less flexibility. For example, Autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are progressing quickly. And professional drivers – taxis to transport trucks – will face reduction in demand.
According to a recent Pew Research Centre survey of 4,135 U.S. adults, 81% “expected many people who drive for a living will suffer job losses as a result.”
Americans in the Pew Survey also favour restrictions on the deployment of robots and computers which are capable of doing human jobs. Moreover, the majority of respondents are in favour of some workfare-like projects:
“85% of Americans are in favor of limiting machines to performing primarily those jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans. Were robots and computers to become widely competitive with human workers, majorities would also support providing all Americans with a guaranteed income that would allow people to meet their basic needs (60% in favor), as well as a national service program that would pay humans to perform jobs even if machines could do them faster or cheaper (58% in favor). “
So, what about insurance?
Since I started my insurance career (early 1980s), I have advocated use of technology to reduce task duplication and expand analytic utilization. There was always interest in reducing cost, but not much interest in strategic projects.
However, the advent of digital has turned the heat up, and displacement of the workforce is recognized as a competitive necessity. Recently, RSA Canada’s CEO, Martin Thompson, raised eyebrows, citing the impact of decreasing cost of technology and the unparalleled ability to automate specific tasks and roles.
At a recent Insurance Institute event, Thompson said,
“I think what we are going to see is the number of people in the industry will reduce. My view would be somewhere in between 30% and 40% over the next five to 10 years.”
One could argue that there will be openings in new risk areas, e.g., cyber risk, which will require new underwriters and risk professionals. However, the advent of cognitive machines (artificial intelligence, e.g.) could result in the same impact as Autonomous Vehicles.
The jury is in deliberation, but…
RSA’s Thompson’s suggestion that staff attrition would occur over the next five to ten is important. I recall that when we first looked at autonomous vehicles, the experts predicted that the first operational vehicles were a decade away.
That was five years ago. And there are test vehicle on the streets now.
What do you think?