Man vs Machine. This age-old debate has persisted since the advent of the earliest machines. When Henry Ford unveiled the Model T in 1908, people wondered, “What would happen to all the horse carriages?” More recently, as computers began to take over the world in the 1970s, the world began to confront the possibility of massive job losses all over the world. The Prime Minister of India – the nation known for the largest number of workers in IT-related jobs today – famously said “You get out” to IBM in 1978, as he feared computers would take away jobs in India. Little would he have imagined what the job landscape of his country would look like, forty years hence with 4 million directly employed in IT and 10 million indirectly. So, did digital transformation really have an effect on jobs?
A 2016 UN report stated that almost 75% of jobs in the developing world are expected to be replaced by machines. This is a frightening prospect. Record-keepers and clerks have been replaced by massive data storage systems in many offices. The humble cloth weaver has given way to large machines churning out thousands of dresses daily. Yet, all this happens while the world’s population is increasing at a tremendous rate, with more and more people graduating out of colleges, ready to work. What can explain this paradox?
The answer is that humans are moving on to highly skilled jobs. The human brain is a complex structure capable of dazzling achievements and creativity – it was not meant to do menial jobs. Jobs that involve research and development of these machines are far more rewarding, while enabling millions to enjoy a higher standard of living. Digital transformation – the inevitable culmination of the Industrial Revolution – has truly unlocked human potential and enabled us to dream beyond our physical limitations and imagine a limitless future.
Undoubtedly, automation and digital transformation have made lives easier. A lone cloth weaver could stitch ten shirts a day; a machine can stitch a thousand. The weaver might have lost his job, but the machine created ten others. Digitalization has transformed the banking sector and made money transfer seamless. Automation has greatly standardized quality and eliminated human error. It has substantially revamped the medical field and allowed us to live longer and healthier. It is impossible to imagine a hospital without machines today. But that doesn’t mean doctors and nurses have lost their jobs! Digital transformation helps doctors arrive at a diagnosis quickly and accurately, while creating jobs in biotechnology and biomedical engineering.
There is virtually no aspect of life which hasn’t been touched by digital transformation. From agriculture to medicine, banking to education, customer service to military – it has pervaded everything, and brought in a slew of jobs in the process. A 2019 OECD report stated that out of every ten new jobs created between 2006 and 2016, four were in digital-intensive areas, increasing overall employment by about 30 million.
To sum it up, yes, the Model T indeed took a lot of horse carriages off the streets. But it also gave birth to thousands of automobile factory workers, car salesmen, automobile engineers, battery makers, gas station workers, mechanics – and of course, drivers. Digital transformation is here to stay and it will create millions of new jobs but it is imperative for us to reskill and adapt to this rapidly changing world to reap maximum benefits from it.
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