The Myth of Technological Unemployment | Campus

By Lindsay Wong

Due to technology constantly advancing, people have become worried about their career prospects in the future. This modern fear is known as “technological unemployment”, which refers to the loss of jobs due to technology. However, this is a myth that people have misconceptions about.

During the Industrial Revolution, the birth of machines meant higher productivity and increased output levels – people thought that they would be jobless due to technology. The rise of technology does mean that some jobs are more at risk than others. These include cashiers, drivers and telemarketers, as they could easily become completely automated in the future. We no longer have a demand for elevator operators, bank tellers and supermarket cashiers. The advent of technology has already made most jobs in the railroad industry in the U.S. almost obsolete. Similarly, only a small number of farmers are required to provide food for the population these days.

The rise of technology has rendered many occupations useless, but is it going to take away all jobs?

Contrary to popular belief, technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed

According to a Deloitte survey, technology has actually created more jobs than it has destroyed in the past 144 years. New job roles have been created to work with technology as future generations become more tech-savvy.

The emergence of jobs like digital marketers, app developers and social media managers are relatively recent. Because people spend so much time online, it is essential for companies to dive into these platforms. Furthermore, teams of people are needed to develop, build and market machines, like AI, drones and robots. In sectors like medicine, education and professional services, technology has simultaneously raised productivity and employment. Many firms have cited technology as being a key factor in their high growth as automation improves accuracy and reduces errors. At the same time, jobs like programmers are needed to create new software and resolve any technical issues.

Even though there are jobs that are at risk of being completely automated, many jobs are safe. People with jobs that require creativity, like artists, writers, scientists and business strategists, could reasonably be deemed safe as the AI do not possess creative minds yet. Although the AI can create original artwork (pictured below), they are still unable to come up with jokes without being programmed.

Similarly, those with jobs that require emotional intelligence and building complex relationships with people, including healthcare professionals, social workers, marketers and teachers, are safe so far. Casual workers like plumbers and repairers are also safe as their jobs require the human touch to fix problems.

Has Singapore fallen victim to technological unemployment?

In a local context, the trend of automated systems has not completely caught on yet. The Timbre restaurant group launched aerial drones to serve food to customers in 2015 (pictured below), and while they are still operational, Timbre is still the only company to invest in drones to this day. Some hawker centres now use robots to pick up trays and deposit them at washing areas, but their purpose has been defeated as customers don’t make the effort to load their trays into the robot. Therefore, waiters and cleaners will still be employed even if more machines are implemented into the F&B industry.

Although multiple jobs in Singapore have become automated like supermarket cashiers and data processors, it has not become widespread yet. Nursing is still safe from advancing technology because Singapore has an ageing population, so nurses are always in high demand. Teaching is also safe as it is a job that involves a high level of engagement with students, which machines don’t have the emotional capabilities for.

If you’re not looking to be obsolete in the future, it is better to acquire many forms of expertise and find work that would benefit this high-tech economy. For example, working in the gig economy allows for diverse opportunities and experiences. If the tasks are routine and repetitive, the job is more likely to be taken over by robots.

While there are many articles out there that drone on about job loss due to technology, it has actually created more jobs and benefited our society as a whole, as it increases productivity and output. To take advantage of this new reality, you can adopt technology – rather than fear it – in order to expose yourself to a new world of job opportunities.