Automation, A.I., and robotics turn the job market upside down
At the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, automation and digitization of our worlds and workplace are continuing, changing the job market, the nature of many jobs and even the concept of what it means to be working. Many fear that robots and automation will take their jobs without alternatives. The phenomenon is not new: in the 19th century, members of the Luddite movement – textile workers and weavers – destroyed weaving machinery in protest and fear that machines would take their place in their industry.
Lately, the same fears emerge in healthcare about artificial intelligence taking the jobs of radiologists, robots surpassing the skills of surgeons, or taking jobs in pharma. A renowned voice in tech, Kai-Fu Lee, founder of venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures told CNBC that A.I. will be bigger than all other tech revolutions, and robots are likely to replace 50 percent of all jobs in the next decade. Stephen Hawking even said that the development of full A.I. could spell the end of the human race. Elon Musk agreed.
Is basic income tax the solution? Or turning to coding?
As the fears of losing the battle against new technologies grow exponentially, alternatives on the individual and social level already surfaced. The most popular policy-level concept is the introduction of the universal basic income, in which case the government would give everyone just enough money to live on while creating incentives for individuals to take risks, start businesses, change jobs, return to school or try a new career. Another idea is the negative income tax, where the state would give the poor money the same way as in the case of taxing rich people; but Bill Gates would tax robots and some economists think the solution lies at the heart of governments creating more jobs.
While these responses for the challenges of automation and digital technologies are only ideas at the moment – except for the national-scale experiment of Finland with universal basic income -, it is natural that people are making steps to secure their own futures. No wonder that so many are considering to give up their current profession and try their luck in programming, coding, and entrepreneurship in general. As it seems that the hottest professions of the day are those dealing with data science, coding and computing. While many think that it might even be the case in healthcare, I believe that if someone truly pictures himself or herself among medical professionals in the future, other skills, such as the futurist mindset and social skills coupled with sound digital literacy might be more important than coding or entrepreneurial spirit.
The importance of the futurist mindset
I’m not saying that everyone should get a crystal ball and concentrate strongly on what it is trying to say. Yet, it is important to look ahead and continuously monitor the current trends with a notion of how it might affect one’s job, family or environment in general. Personal computers, laptops are only around for a couple of decades, not to speak about the wonder called world wide web! In the 1950s, no one would have thought that a little bit more than 60 years later, the most pursued jobs and skills will be those of the data scientists and coders.
Many jobs that might be around in healthcare in a couple of years, do not exist yet. What if we will have robot companion technicians soon? What about gamification specialists or AR/VR operation planners? While they all might be possible, you cannot really prepare for them only by studying more coding or data science. What everyone needs to understand is that the most important is to familiarize with the latest technologies and prepare for the changes in time. We have to have meaningful conversations about how such changes affect people and the future generations. For example, the generation born today will play with AI friends and have VR teachers. That might come with a completely different view on the worlds as ours today, so we need to be open, mindful and curious. Just as a futurist!
Social skills and empathy
In healthcare, soft skills such as empathy – and the jobs connected with it will be valued more and more in the future. It makes complete sense. Automation, robots and artificial intelligence will perform certain cognitive tasks brilliantly to the extent that humans will not be able to compete. Where could humans have a chance? At the so-called soft skills: creativity, empathy, compassion and paying attention to each other. Although artificial intelligence will perform diagnostic tasks or robots might be able to do surgeries, but could they talk to a patient with empathy about the risks and consequences of an operation?
Moreover, as digital health simplifies administration and cuts down on monotonous tasks, the workload of doctors and nurses will be reduced, so they will be able to concentrate on what really matters – healing the patient and guiding him through the entire process with care. I think, eventually, AI would be able to mimic even such soft skills but as we are social beings, we will always need the human touch.
The shift towards jobs requiring soft skills already shows in the numbers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that while jobs for doctors and surgeons will rise by 14 per cent between 2014 and 2024, the top three direct-care jobs – personal-care aide, home-health aide, and nursing assistant – are expected to grow by 26 per cent.
However, as Livia Gershon writes here, we seriously need to rethink our perspective towards jobs requiring social skills; as they are usually underpaid and undervalued. As care work and other types of labor containing mainly soft skills cannot contribute to the GDP growth as effectively as other types, the global economic system cannot value it appropriately. However, as the age of artificial intelligence and robots is coming, soft skills become much more valued and those who plan to enter the social care sector now will reap the benefit of it – not to speak about patients and society in general!
Although I argue against medical professionals massively going into coding and programming in general, I am certainly not against digital technology and digital literacy. On the contrary! I believe that it is way more important than many other skills in today’s digital world. I only think that it is more relevant to interact and use technology than to understand it down to the tiniest detail. Especially for medical professionals.
Although in the future, it also might change what digital literacy means. Plenty of schools started to incorporate the basics of computer science, coding and programming into their courses. For example, former US President Barack Obama announced a ‘computer science for all’ program for elementary and high schools in the United States. And while I’m all for STEM education, I would be happy to see schools focusing more on voluntary work in helping the elderly or other groups of people in need, as what kids learn there might be more valuable than Python in the future.
While acquiring new skills related to digital technologies, of course, makes sense, in healthcare, it might make even more sense to focus on skills we should have been good at but the nature of our profession didn’t allow it. With disruptive technologies, physicians would finally have time to focus on the patient, deal with challenging decisions and enjoy their profession again.
Dr. Bertalan Mesko, PhD is The Medical Futurist analyzing how science fiction technologies can become reality in medicine and healthcare. As a geek physician with a PhD in genomics, he is a keynote speaker and also an Amazon Top 100 author.
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