At this year’s Davos conference, the results of a survey indicate that in just four years technology could effectively destroy more than 7.1 million jobs.

Jobs Replaced By Software

The survey included senior-level executives from more than 350 of the world’s largest corporations in both emerging markets and developed economies, accounting for around sixty-five percent of the global workforce. It found that innovations in computing and information technology are increasing at a rapid pace, and in just a few years many jobs thought to be in the realm of humans only will be replaced or automated by machines. While the industrial revolution saw mechanical labor replaced and automated by technology, the IT revolution is on the verge of being able to replace jobs that require cognition and creativity.

Currently, algorithms can write short articles covering simple news events such as corporate earnings, sporting events, or weather updates that are difficult to discern from those written by people. Technology is also replacing (or has replaced) many radio DJs, tax accountants, stock brokers, travel agents, librarians, bank tellers and postal workers. The advent of driverless cars could eliminate most driving professions including drivers of trucks, buses, taxis, trains and limousines.

Soon, rudimentary artificial intelligence (AI) will give way to more sophisticated learning algorithms which can then replace many more types of jobs including those in the medical, legal, and education professions.

The Upside

While many millions of jobs will be lost, new technologies will also create approximately 2 million jobs, according to the survey, which didn’t exist before. This would net the total jobs lost to 5 million: still a startling number of unemployed. Unless these workers learn quickly how to develop or interface with software, they will be at a huge disadvantage.

Increased automation will also serve to lower costs, making goods and services cheaper for consumers and allowing them to save more – if they still have a job. Technological progress can also offer non-monetary benefits that improve quality of life by improving health outcomes, improve the environment, and streamline efficiency.

The Bottom Line

Unlike the industrial revolution, which created more jobs than it destroyed, by most accounts the new wave of technological innovation involving computing power, AI and connectivity will destroy more jobs than it creates. A net 5 million jobs could be lost, according to a survey conducted by the forum at Davos, by the year 2020.

Of course, some good will come out of this new wave of cognitive automation, however, the benefits to society may be muted by the increase in unemployment.