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21st Apr 2017

The robots are coming

David Elliott

Ever get the feeling someone is looking over your shoulder and eagerly eyeing your job?

Maybe someone from another firm, a colleague or someone who works for you?

What about the beady eyes of a robot, one which doesn’t ask for a salary, doesn’t take tea breaks and doesn’t get stuck in traffic?

It might sound fantastical but more and more of us are finding our jobs being automated with the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

Robots, or more accurately computers, are being programmed to carrying out the tasks which you and I have spent our careers perfecting.

The more obvious roles which lend themselves to the use of AI are those in manufacturing, but there are countless desk jobs which are also at risk, including those currently carried out by secretaries, accountants or legal clerks.

Law firms are one of the biggest adopters of the technology, training software to search through endless contracts when a change in the law occurs or to highlight when a key phrase is mentioned.

Previously that had been carried out by legal clerks who poured over dusty folders in dark store rooms.

In fact, there are few professions that AI can’t find a way of reducing the requirement for labour, including my own.

Maybe these words aren’t being written by me but by an algorithm which cleverly (or not so cleverly depending on how you view this column) pulls together a story from stock phrases and rambling anecdotes.

I’ll leave that one hanging in the air for now but you can be sure that AI will infiltrate your work in one way or another in the future, if it hasn’t already.

Business advisors and technology gurus Deloitte have been carrying out a bit of research into how AI is going to impact the job market and have come up with some pretty stark figures.

It found that over the last 15 years a total of 800,000 lower skilled jobs in the UK have been lost to technology.

That’s a scary statistic and could have you running for the off switch, but wait, because that’s only one side of the story.

While those jobs have been lost, Deloitte estimated that 3.5m new roles have been created, roles which are higher quality that then ones they have replaced.

In fact, each of those new jobs pay around £10,000 a year more than the lower-skilled, routine job they replace which, for those economic boffins out there, results in a net boost to the economy of £140m.

That’s being borne out by anecdotal evidence from bosses here in Northern Ireland.

One law firm boss this scribbler spoke to recently said AI would free the staff who would normally carry out those tasks to do more interesting, thought provoking things.

So, while you might be eyeing the Dalek which has suddenly appeared in the corner of your room with suspicion, don’t.

Welcome it in, make it a cup of tea and take it on the staff night out because it could be your ticket to another £10,000 on top of your salary and a more interesting job.

The robots are coming and they’re going to improve your life.

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