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The Rise Of Automation in The Workplace And Everyday Life

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Automation -the replacement of humans with technology- is everywhere. It's impacting our day-to-day lives, usually in ways we barely notice. Grocery store self-checkouts or the map app on your phone are examples of automation that've become engrained in our daily life. One thing is certain; automation is going to become far more widespread as industries continue to adopt technology and try to find ways to save time, money and effort.

A Brookfield Institute study found that almost 42 per cent of the Canadian labour force is at a high risk of being affected by automation over the next 20 years. Naturally, this is a cause for concern. At the same time, using the Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS), Brookfield also found that the occupations with the lowest risk of being affected by automation are projected to produce nearly 712,000 net new jobs by 2024, creating room for the unemployed. As a society, we need to recognize the potential social and economic drawbacks that automation can cause, as well as its numerous advantages.

Sectors like fitness, health, safety, education and energy are already benefiting from artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Robots such as the Milo and NAO have entered the classroom to help younger grades and students with learning disabilities reap the benefits of more tailored teaching methods and socialization. These positive effects suggest robotic integration into the classroom will become more popular as robots become easier to use and more affordable. While robots can manage a number of tasks that teachers are responsible for, the emotional attributes of a human can't be replaced - at least in the foreseeable future. That's what sets us apart from AI.

Solar technologies have been advancing for decades and costs are finally starting to decrease as efficiency rises. With nations across the globe promising to begin acting with earth's best interest in mind, there is more urgency placed on the energy industry to develop ways to decrease mining of fossil fuels and make renewable energy more accessible. Similar to robots in the classroom, automation in solar energy has the potential to change the work that people employed in this industry conduct. For example, the solar energy industry is working to design waterless panel-cleaning robots that will allow for solar energy to exist in dry, sunny places like the desert.

Automation advancements in these fields are positive for obvious reasons - they're helping people and our planet - but will also transform many jobs that humans have trained for. We've already seen the significant impacts of automation on the job market in the automobile, mining and manufacturing industries. As technology continues to advance, it's likely that many other people will begin to feel the socioeconomic implications of robotics entering their workplaces. Eventually we'll experience a wave of displaced workers and undergraduate degrees deemed obsolete.

What can we do? Education is at the core of all successful societies and this will never change. We need to get smarter with our educational system and teach skills that can't be disrupted. A report by The Foundation of Young Australians found that 60 per cent of Australian students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be transformed by automation. We need to prepare the next generations across the globe with skills that are transferrable and gear them towards jobs that will open up in the future. We don't know what these jobs will look like, but we know which professions will always require a human element and can't be fully automated. This means continuing to promote professional fields like law and medicine, creative careers and always encouraging digital competency, as it's no longer an asset but a necessity.

In today's world, we either embrace technology or run the risk of being left behind. That means phasing automation into the workplace step by step, instead of all at once, allowing companies, employees and end users to adapt much easier. A scheduled roll-out plan of when new technology will enter the workplace will allow workers to learn and succeed alongside technology, instead of being buried in new information, processes and a learning curve that might be too steep.

One small but effective thing we can all do to help the spread of digital competency is show someone who isn't tech savvy how to do a thing or two on their laptop or smartphone. It's as easy as showing a grandparent how to use internet banking, download an app that can help them get their groceries done, or look up the address for a local community centre. Taking measures to help others understand technology sooner rather than later will help set all of us up for a more successful future. This is something the DMZ is planning on doing with the launch of the new community arm to our incubator, which will provide skills-based programs for all demographics from youth to baby boomers.

Companies and individuals need to find a way to work with AI harmoniously, and collaboration is key. There are many schools of thought, and I believe that robots will complement human labour, taking over the repetitive and dull tasks that we no longer want to do or are ill equipped for. Humans will take on jobs that require more responsibility, specialization, and cognitive ability, while robots will do more of the routine work.

Becoming more digitally competent is an integral part of collaboration. In a recent DMZ Session on the rise of automation, guest panelist Krista Jones, head of working and learning at MaRS, explained that learning is no longer a straight line with a finite end. Yes, schools and workplaces need to encourage digital competency more than ever, but in the end, the responsibility of becoming more technology literate is the responsibility of individuals. We should strive to become as technology literate as we are book literate. This will be essential to collaboration.

So where does the rise of automation leave us? Some people believe we'll see a rise in unemployment, but if history repeats itself, like the loss of jobs in the automobile and agricultural workforce, new jobs will be created thanks to demand. Automation will change the dynamics of the workplace in decades to come. We can choose to ignore it and work against technology, or embrace it and find ways to take advantage of AI and automation to be better at what we do. It's our choice.