Opinion

Are machines destroying our job prospects? Apparently not

6 min read

27 August 2015

The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload? Paul Hennin, director of marketing at Aerohive Networks, believes that it is the latter.

Every day we’re seeing more examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine-2-Machine (M2M) technology creeping into our everyday lives, and bringing us closer to Hollywood’s vision of the future as depicted in the Terminator films, A.I. or I, Robot.

Each of these movies present a world in which machines eventually supersede human designers – becoming self-aware, learning how to survive, and in some cases, destroying the world.

We’ve all heard of smart fridges and smart lightbulbs, but the Internet of Things (IoT) will be much bigger than that. For example, Japanese brand Henn-na Hotel announced it would be opening a two-storey, 72-room site staffed by robots. Duties to be undertaken by the androids include manning of the front desk, room cleaning, and porter services.

While machines are on the rise and technology has altered most industries and professions drastically, there may be no need to worry for our jobs yet. According to research by Deloitte, which looked into 140 years’ worth of data, technology has actually created more jobs than it has destroyed. Hard, dangerous and dull jobs have declined, but there was a steep incline in knowledge-intensive sectors such as professional services, medicine and education.

How will the machines of the future affect our jobs?

What we are seeing in Japan poses an interesting question – is this the beginning of a shift from a labour-driven workforce towards a digitally-driven model? The short answer is, yes. But what does this mean for the network, and should enterprises be making immediate steps to be ready for this change?

The numbers would suggest that immediate action is needed. Research by global consultancy firm Accenture found 57 per cent of organisations are adopting technologies that help business users complete tasks that previously required IT experts. More than 75 per cent believe that within the next three years, companies will need to focus equally on training people and machines. This kind of training could be anything from using intelligent software, algorithms and machine learning.

Businesses are gravitating towards the digital transformation as maturing technology leads to faster ROI and improved efficiency. Gartner predicts that by 2018, the total cost of ownership for business operations will be 30 per cent lower than today because of the wider use of smart machines and industrialised services. The force underpinning this network of connected devices, machines and robots must be robust and reliable to ensure organisations achieve maximum benefits of their technological investment.

Getting your business ready

If we think of these machines as mere connected devices that rely on wi-fi, we can begin to understand the pre-requisites needed to support this transition. Think back to when non-Ethernet devices began to connect to the network, the advent of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the prevalence of “Shadow IT” apps – apps built and used inside organisations without explicit organisational approval – on all these mobile devices. Each development marked a fundamental shift in networking. The rise of the machines is no different.

Japan’s Henn-na Hotel will provide a good example of how robots will begin to enter the workplace and enterprises should take note about how to begin preparing for this sea change. According to ZK Research, when formulating the appropriate strategy to underpin these machines, enterprises need to consider the following:

  • Invest in a highly intelligent, distributed architecture with a focus on connecting devices to ensure machines do not go down;
  • Collect, store, archive and analyse data from connected endpoints to help refine processes and make better strategic decisions to support the enterprise; and
  • Individual devices must be secure and their applications must be able to communicate with the network so that data is protected.

With the world changing this much, we cannot begin to predict the number of devices that will require connectivity to thrive within organisations. What we do know is that a combination of humans and machines will drive businesses forward. If the number of jobs continue to increase as found in the Deloitte research, we still have plenty of time in employment, but we should future proof our organisations to cope with the developments in the IoT and machines. 

Embracing this digital transformation will also present organisations with a competitive advantage. They just need to make sure they are making the necessary changes to their network infrastructure to support this future.

Paul Hennin is director of marketing at Aerohive Networks.