Home / Blog / Robots are not the problem, the Digital Transformation is the problem! -II

Robots are not the problem, the Digital Transformation is the problem! -II

As jobs are lost new professions will emerge. The question is whether the job loss can be offset by the jobs created by the new professions and if people losing their jobs can access the new opportunities. Credit: University of Kent

So, robots and artificial intelligence are undermining our jobs. True in certain areas, even truer tomorrow and in even more areas. However the big problem is not a robot replacing me (doing what I do better, faster, with guarantee quality, at lower cost…) rather that the digital transformation makes my job useless to the point that no-one, human or robot, has to do it. The digital transformation doesn’t steal the work from us, something that we might be able to fight. It obliterates jobs.

The digital transformation, if properly executed, increases the overall system efficiency. Unfortunately we owe our job to the existing inefficiencies. If you remove the inefficiencies you no longer have that job.

Getting a plane ticket involved a travel agency, communicating to the airline company that they had a passenger on that flight, cashing the price of the ticket, send part of that to the airline … All that involved several people, implied the existence of several jobs. Today all of the above is done at the bit level initiated by the prospected passenger and resulting in an electronic ticket on the passenger smartphone with no involvement of people, and with no need of jobs. We digitally transformed the air travel booking, we increased the overall system efficiency … and we obliterated jobs.

This is the real problem: increasing efficiency decreases jobs opportunities.

Hence the solution: let’s keep the inefficiency! Unfortunately it does not work. We live in a competitive system in which, even at Country level, we can control only a small part of the overall processes and we cannot control the flow of economic goods (just because it is not advantageous to control them, to impose commercial barriers, because in the end they backfire). Hence, if we stay as we are, we don’t improve our system’s efficiency, we face the competition from other places where efficiency is improved. Our competitive edge thins out, we lose jobs because we can no longer sell our products/services and we also lose our capability to create value. It becomes a lose-lose game.

Someone is theorizing about a trend towards infinite efficiency to which corresponds a jobless Society. I don’t believe that is the case, at least for the next two decades we will have, and we will create inefficiency spaces sustaining our jobs and the ones of the 2 billion people that will increase Earth population.

How can we find these inefficiency spaces without clashing with the laws of competition? By creating new things.  Whatever is new is not efficient, efficiency comes with experience through step by step improvement.

We need to foster creativity and creativity stems from the education, from the way education is pursued. The way matters more than the content. The content will be superseded in just a few years, well before the completion of the professional life of that person.

We need to imbue creativity and the passion for creativity in our youngsters, but creativity is not enough, we need to teach execution and ensure an efficient execution environment (regulation, access to resources, low cost and efficiency of infrastructure …).

Reinventing education and creating the right environment cannot be done in a green field. We’ve got to live with what we have. Hence the real challenge is to foster the transition. As it is clearly shown in the Imperial College Foresight study the future is not going to be bigger, nor faster, nor cheaper. It is going to be different and it is happening in a short time, much shorter than the cognitive revolution (60,000 years), the agricultural revolution (8,000 years), the communications –roads and ships- revolution (1,500 years), the industrial revolution (150 years), the computer /telecommunications revolution (100 years). The convergence of brain science, genomic science, material science, artificial intelligence and digital twins is creating the perfect storm to revolutionise our world in the coming 20-30 years.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.