In the span of a few months, millions of people were laid off, furloughed, or transitioned to remote work.
In April 2020, the unemployment rate peaked at a whopping 14.7%. The last time we saw an unemployment percentage that high in the nation was during the Great Depression.
Companies shifted to work remotely to keep up with social distancing guidelines. Some companies have already decided to allow workers to work from home permanently.
Necessary organizations that cannot move employees to work from home must put into effect social distancing measures to prevent the spread of infection. Businesses are expanding how they use machines to implement social distancing measures and reduce the number of staff that has to physically show up to work.
The virus is forcing companies to speed up the use of automation in their business to prevent human interactions and to stop the spread of the virus. After we come out of this pandemic, we could see a lot of jobs replaced by robots.
Automation Before The Pandemic
Machines have always been predicted to take over the workplace way before the global pandemic.
Oxford Economics predicted that by 2030, 20 million manufacturing jobs could be displaced by industrial robots. That is 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce.
Fast-food restaurants already employed kiosks to take orders and grocery stores used self-checkout machines to replace human cashiers. And if you believe that just basic or low functioning jobs will be overtaken, you might need to think again.
Hundreds of high-level financial analysts are being replaced with Kensho, a machine learning software that analyzes how a specific event– such as a natural disaster or an election result– might affect markets.
Every day new SAAS companies are popping up to automate and streamline production, marketing, operation, and sales.
Paul Koullick, the founder of Keeper Tax, a software that scans your bank account to automatically find tax-write offs for self-employed workers, says:
“Artificial intelligence companies were providing algorithmic solutions to all sorts of problems before Covid-19. However, with everything that is going on now, coronavirus has put AI in a prime position to be adapted and augmented into the workplace.”
Coronavirus Expedites The Use Of AI
As more and more companies have gone out of business because of the coronavirus, businesses are looking to pandemic-proof their businesses for the future.
There lies a special opportunity to further automate the workplace, with the goal of keeping workers safe and more productive. Companies are seeking innovative ways to use machines and AI as a solution to disruptions in workflow or other processes.
For example, with social distancing being required, Covid-19 has pushed more companies to use AI as a hiring tool.
Google began using its artificial intelligence technology, Duplex, to contact businesses to confirm their updated business hours, so they can reflect them accurately when people are looking at Search and Google Maps.
Ravin Jesthasan, an automation expert who led numerous research projects for the World Economic Forum, says:
“Many companies are applying automation in an accelerated fashion as they look to deal with some of the cost issues of this pandemic. And so much work now needs to be done with social distancing, without contact, so we’re seeing the use of artificial intelligence and robotics to take on what might have been done by humans. As one CEO said to me, ‘The machine doesn’t fall ill.’”
In a report done by Faethm, a future-of-work software company, new data sets were examined to see to what extent “business-critical” jobs could be supported with artificial intelligence and automation technologies in the future.
Here were the key takeaways from the report.
- In order to safeguard productivity, businesses are adapting machines to replace human workers. Directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic, between 32 and 50 million US jobs could see increased assistance of technology to social distance and reduce health risks caused by human interaction.
- Many specialist jobs can benefit from the greater use of AI. These include specialist medical roles such as anesthesiologists, nurses, and health technologists. Increased use of technology to augment those roles will likely make them more valuable and resilient in any future pandemic.
- More complex jobs where AI help is currently less practical may be targets for innovation. As retailers and restaurants seek to operate with less staff, jobs such as cashiers, servers, and drivers, whose tasks can be fully automated, maybe at risk.
- Pandemic preparedness will speed up the use of AI and accelerate the pace of AI innovation in high-risk job categories. The government should provide support for businesses that provide essential front-line services and ensuring that high-risk roles benefit from the best available technology in the future.
The Future Of Work
Covid-19 has completely disrupted the structure of how we work. There will be a huge cultural shift with companies having their employees be remote, instead of requiring them to show up to an office every day, and employees being forced to use the machines that are taking away their jobs.
Companies will explore different possibilities to keep workers safe, lower costs, and be functional during a pandemic. Moving forward, Covid-19 will accelerate enterprise automation plans and replace thousands of workers as well as create a number of new jobs.
We cannot fail to prepare for what comes after this global crisis. It is vitally crucial that we address how we are going to plan and protect our economy from the adoption of robots and AI.
If not, a crisis that takes place in another form may emerge.