Will Technology Affect White-Collar Jobs?

The dual trend of globalization and robotics – ‘Globotics”, will lead to the unprecedented disruption that could displace workers at the fastest pace in global history. 

History teaches us that automation diminished blue-collar jobs; will technology affect white-collar jobs?

Robots have started invading our world and replacing us in all sectors and industries. Today we know that AI helps us perform skill tasks at the highest conceptual level, not only in offices and boardrooms but now in hospitals and spas.

It is about automation of service-sector and professional jobs and globalization.  An Economics Professor at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Prof. Richard Baldwin – refers to this phenomenon as “Globotics”.  Globotics is about automating away jobs and robot arms replacing human hands. This exemplifies the types of disruption that would eliminate white-collar and service profession jobs faster than ever before.

Today, digitally driven tele-migration has resulted in a new phase of globalization.  This has increased competition among global talent and created fresh opportunities for professional, white-collar and other service jobs across borders.  Machine translation has generated tidal waves of talent that could be utilized to transfer novel knowledge and skills to the business world.  The proliferation of technology has caused a radical transformation of the world economy.  The power of artificial intelligence has reduced the human monopoly on thinking in terms of white-collar professions in the fields of medicine, finance, recruitment and law.

Today, the whole thing is called robotic process automation; it is like digital knowledge workers.  The automation process has led computers to open the email; it reads, understands the mail, opens the database and makes changes accordingly and closes, all without humans and 100 times faster and with fewer errors than a human.  It is the replacement of jobs like this which I think will go fastest. It is a serious possibility that the displacement will happen very fast.

Algorithm-enhanced ML and image recognition can perform complex tasks in competition with highly skilled professionals.  Therefore, doctors, bankers and lawyers are among those who will have to share their skills and knowledge to perform duties in synchrony with AI.  The combination of globalization and robotics based on Artificial Intelligence will lead to globotics upheaval, posing a threat to the basic tenets of the social market economy.  The speed of transformation is threatening to overpower the human capacity to adapt. Once the things done by humans, like drawing architectural plans, looking at legal documents and trying to find evidence, are starting to be done by robots, they are very good at it. 

Robots can be considered as receptacles in which AI is stored. These, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), are machines that are “automatically controlled, reprogrammable and multipurpose” (Acemoglu and Restrepo 2017). Unlike humans, robots are capable of working in 24-hour shifts and can be reprogrammed easily to implement changes in manufacturing processes. Contrary to popular belief, robot programming need not be done by humans. By watching humans, software residing in a robot can note the sequenced steps needed to perform jobs and replicate the sequence. 

In the formal service sector, robots are already a significant phenomenon: these prepare and serve meals and manage cash counters (Tabuchi 2010); vend products ranging from DVDs to cars (Semuels 2011, Ford 2015); distribute medicines in pharmacies and hospital rooms (King 2010); and replace middle-level secretarial and managerial skills (see Autor 2010Jaimovich and Siu 2012) as also those of highly paid consultants.

Robotic activity is picking up in the following sectors. However, humans still have a massive lead over robots which seems unlikely to be erased in the next 20 years: translation, writing of novels, news reporting, art, and composition and rendition of music (see Hicks 2018Schaub 2016Carr 2009Moses 2017, Ford 2015, Shubber 2013Smith 2013). Given the limitations of humanoids, humans would still be required in the hospitality sector and as versatile caregivers for the elderly. We need to line up the capacities where AI is less good; the most human tasks are the ones it can’t do.  Like motivating people, managing people, providing creativity, dealing with unknown situations, applying ethics – things like that require a human touch or human talent.  These things AI cannot do

Today we need to train our students and children to make sure that they don’t prepare for jobs that are very, very quickly going to disappear. But for people with jobs, you’ve got to consider moving into different remote positions.  Today, just getting more education is not enough.  You have to focus more on human skills.

About the Author
Dr. Annapoorna, is Professor in International School of Management Excellence (ISME), Bengaluru. Her education qualification is M.A (Economics), MBA (HRM), PG Diploma in Women’s Studies and Ph.D (Economics). She has expertise in Design & Development of globally and industrially relevant curriculum, keeping in view the Choice based credit system (CBCS), OBE and NEP -2020 into consideration in all UG and PG programs. Domain understanding in Economics Education, Management Education and Quality bench marks in Higher Education, New Education Policy 2020 implementation, Industry Interface in Higher Education, Governance and Management of University etc.

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