Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution could spell more jobs – not fewer

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Automated packaging at an Italian factory.

If automation drives down prices, the result could be a net increase in jobs.

Ever since Homo erectus carved a piece of stone into a tool, the welfare of humanity has been on the increase. This technological breakthrough led first to the hand axe, and eventually to the iPhone. We have found it convenient to organize the most dramatic period of change between these two inventions – beginning roughly in the year 1760 – into four industrial revolutions.

As each revolution unfolded, dire predictions of massive job losses ensued, increasing each time. The first three are over, and these concerns were clearly misplaced. The number of jobs increased each time, as did living standards and every other social indicator.

McKinsey predicts that 800 million workers could be displaced in 42 countries, or a third of the workforce, because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). When reminded of the experience with the previous revolutions, the comeback is often that this one is different. Although this has been said at the onset of each revolution, could there be something more to it this time?

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Reskilling future workers: who’s responsible?

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Rapid technological change, with its impact on jobs, requires a constantly renewed workforce through retraining.

From switchboard operator to film projectionist, three industrial revolutions down and we’ve already seen many jobs wiped from the face of the Earth. Emerging technology is rapidly dispensing P45s, pink slips or termination letters to the next round of workers. More than half the global labour force will need to start reskilling and reinventing how they earn a living in the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum. Millions of roles will be lost, equally many more will be created.

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Artificial Intelligence will be the greatest jobs engine the world has ever seen

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Fears that AI will make many types of workers unemployable are unfounded.

In the past few years, artificial intelligence has advanced so quickly that it now seems that hardly a month goes by without a newsworthy AI breakthrough. In areas as wide-ranging as speech translation, medical diagnosis and game play, we have seen computers outperform humans in startling ways. This has sparked a discussion about what impact AI will have on employment.

Some fear that as AI improves, it will supplant workers in the job force, creating an ever-growing pool of unemployable humans who cannot economically compete with machines in any meaningful way. This concern, while understandable, is unfounded.

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AI will create as many new jobs as it loses

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PwC, the business consultancy, reckons that as many UK jobs will be created by AI as will be lost by AI.

A PwC report forecasts that about 20% of UK jobs will be automated by 2037—but 20% more jobs will also be created.

That’s 7 million jobs lost and 7.2 million jobs gained.

PwC reckons that manufacturing sector jobs could be reduced by around 25% – a net loss of nearly 700,000 jobs.

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Ireland could gain 100,000 jobs by embracing driverless technology

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A Waymo self-driving vehicle is parked outside the Alphabet company’s offices where its been testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona.

New study calls on Goverment to take active role in making most of opportunities present.

As many as 100,000 high-end direct and indirect jobs could be created in Ireland by 2030 as driverless cars become the norm, a new report claims.

The study suggests the State has the potential to become a leading global hub for companies developing connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

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Driverless cars and trucks don’t mean mass unemployment—they mean new kinds of jobs

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As business leaders who work with scores of senior leaders across the private and public sectors, the topic of automation and its implications for workers is inescapable—and often anxiety-inducing. Understandably so. Technology and social changes are poised to reshape nearly every aspect of what and how work gets done, and by whom. When we speak and write on this topic, the audience response is usually intense and ranges from excitement to deep anxiety.

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