The biggest and most influential change to the global economy has only just begun, that of mass automation. There are a substantial number of people who are highly concerned that new immigrants and temporary foreign workers are occupying too many domestic jobs. That these jobs and occupations should be reserved for those who are residents and citizens of our province and country. But an even greater threat to the job security of our workforce is the inevitable trend towards systems of mass automation. As systems like advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing continue their exponential journey to vastly reduced costs of production and ever increasing applicability to the ordinary workplace. The economy and more importantly, society as a whole, will begin to see its effects on our everyday lives. Large-scale automation is set to relegate many citizen’s occupations to that of part-time work and worse still, mass automation will replace other citizens in their jobs entirely.
A 2016 study done by the University of Toronto estimates that over the next 10 to 15 years Canada will lose anywhere from a low of 1.5 million jobs to a high of 7.5 million jobs. This distressing information means that anywhere from 8.3% to 41% of the approximately 18 million jobs that currently exist in Canada are set to be partially or entirely replaced with systems of mass automation. With a continuing trend towards an even greater number of automated workplaces further into the future.
“Losing even 1 million jobs to automation within a short time period would mean an unemployment rate touching 12 per cent.” - University of Toronto, School of Public Policy & Governance, Working Without a Net, November 2016
Some of the first industries to be affected by such a large-scale change in Canada are transportation, manufacturing, mining, and various other jobs which require repetitive tasks.
“Given that there are more than 500,000 Canadians who drive for a living, the possibility of a quick transition to driverless technology for truck-driving (the second most common occupation for men), cabs and deliveries makes these prospects worryingly realistic.” - University of Toronto, School of Public Policy & Governance, Working Without a Net, November 2016
According to a 2017 report published by the McKinsey Global Institute, in the United States as high as 78% of labour, manufacturing and other jobs are able to be replaced with our current level of technological automation alone.
“Since predictable physical activities figure prominently in sectors such as manufacturing, food service and accommodations, and retailing, these are the most susceptible to automation based on technical considerations alone.” - McKinsey Global Institute, A future that works: Automation, employment, and productivity, January 2017
All levels of government will need to have the appropriate policies and legislation in place to ensure that we citizens retain our standard of living. At present, our government, the business community, and our wider society have the opportunity to form a general dialogue about how to responsibly transition the economy to one of large-scale automation. Such a dialogue must include discourse around steady employment, the societal obligations of businesses, standards of living, various forms of taxation, and several other issues. So, we as fellow citizens can properly prepare our society for the eventual technological changes which will so fundamentally alter our ways of life.
Our society and our government have the time to contemplate and act on this economic trend to ensure no citizen has a reduced standard of living and as many citizens as possible can enjoy the positive benefits the New Economy will bring.