A year ago, Dagens Nyheter (leading Swedish newspaper) launched an article stating that 40% of all current jobs will be replaced by digital technology by 2025. It is a scenario describing the true effects of digitalization that will re-shape the whole society, economics and politics. The question is not if it will happen but when – and how to employ those losing their jobs due to digitalization. What we need to remember is that digitalization will not only replace standardized manual work but also highly specialized work. The root cause to the scenario is Moore’s Law. The idea that computer processing power will annually double to half the cost. We are in the position today where computers can simulate the power of a human brain and in a couple of years a computer can replace company departments, companies and clusters of companies. The age of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will boost the digital revolution in an unpredictable way. To be honest, what business (such as banking and insurance) cannot be completely replaced by computers?
The digitalization scenario of society and businesses raises a number of fundamental questions that need to be addressed. What work will people do if 40% of our current jobs are replaced? How will money and wealth be distributed if 50% of the work force does not have a regular income? How can we control the computers when they have a greater skills than people? Are we willing to pay for future digital services provided by a computer? We have approximately 10-15 years to find answers to these question as the evolution is very rapid. And at the same time, we need to address other global challenges as global warming and political instability. The social, political and economic complexity will increase exponentially.
Embracing the Digital Future
The key going forward is to create new jobs based on the new digital prerequisites. To embrace the possibilities of the new digital technology rather the protecting our pre-digital society and work force. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict the workings of the future digital society and what kind of work will be in demand. The digitalization of our work force will be extremely painful and will lead to social unrest if not managed correctly. Who is to blame when our jobs are replaced by computers and our standard of living is reduced? Will we see social refugees emigrating to find work and income in other parts of the world?
The digital transformation of certain industries has been ongoing for decades. It is estimated that 70% of staff in banking has disappeared due to digital technology during the last 50 years. Digitalization of industries is a natural part of its evolution. However, studying the last customer survey of the Swedish banking system shows that technology has become a commodity for customers and that local human interaction is what is creating value today. So, the human interaction in branch offices cannot be fully replaced by automation. The demand for local interaction and customer experience is key for future businesses.
Looking forward, I can see three areas where employment will increase in the coming years. First, it is assumed that that life expectancy will radically increase with a higher percentage of population over 70 years old. It will require complete new medical structure, services and human capabilities. Digital technology will improve standard of care, but human interaction and contact is absolutely required. Even though social and mobile platforms makes it easier for people to communicate, my view is that the need for human interaction will increase. Secondly, the environmental challenges are today (2018) are huge and new digital technology along with human labor is needed to clean up the earth. Addressing the new ecological challenges will require new eco-friendly infrastructure and societies. In Sweden, the government just approved high speed trains between the major cities to reduce the dependencies on flying. More and more large-scale infrastructure projects are needed to meet the current environmental threats. Finally, the rise of local markets and businesses will dominate our society going forward. We see more and more businesses embracing the well-being of the local society; staying close to the customer and focusing on the human interaction. We also see the rise of local businesses focusing on repairs and recycling to reduce consumption and ecological impact.
Imagine the Future
Digitalization will change the foundation of our society from many perspectives. For example: job opportunities, infrastructure, businesses, politics and education. My concern is how our society will look like when my kids grow up? Will they need a driver’s license? What kind of jobs will be available? How will they travel? When people 50-100 years ago tried to predict the society in 2018 – it was much more advanced than it actually is. Maybe we have a need to inflate the technical evolution to match our own imagination.
About The Author
Hans Gillior is a founding partner of The Goodwind Company, an advisory and knowledge company in field of digital transformation. The Goodwind Company believe in the sharing economy and the power of networks across borders and cultures. The company provides a “best practice” framework (service library) supporting Digital Transformation GooDIGITAL based on the collective knowledge and experience of Goodwind partners, academia and business partners.
Hans Gillior is an experienced Principal in field of IT/Digital Transformation with both senior line manager and senior advisor positions. He has a proven track record of changing the mind-set of leadership, and implementing dynamic governance and capabilities to create a competitive advantage in unpredictable digital markets. He is a digital thought-leader part of local and global expert networks, but also a frequent speaker at conferences, management coach/trainer and author.