Analysts and technologists overplayed long ago the idea automation will replace the human workforce, but MIT's future of work task force found some truth in need to prepare for emerging technology disruption.
MIT launched the future of work task force in 2018 in response to the idea that robots are taking away jobs, but found the technology shaping the future of work actually moves very slowly. CIOs and other business leaders have time to prepare, if they start investing in skills and adaptations now.
On the whole, emerging technologies are "unfolding gradually" with time for companies and workers to adapt, Elisabeth Reynolds, special assistant to the White House for manufacturing and economic development and executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, said at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on Tuesday.
Stories of emerging technologies overhauling industries exist, but cautionary tales of businesses warning it won't happen overnight have also emerged. "This gives us some hope and opportunity to adjust our policies to respond accordingly," Reynolds said.
Technology's impact on jobs today mostly stems from mature IT that was introduced decades ago, such as the internet and cloud computing.
"There is a huge difference between when the technology first comes out of the lab, and when it gets deployed at scale," Irving Wladawsky-Berger, visiting lecturer in information technology at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said at the event.
With AI, for example, establishing human-machine collaboration "takes a lot of research and experimentation, and that's probably why AI is taking its time being deployed at scale," Wladawsky-Berger said.
The technology that does cause disruption mostly works at the task level, not at the occupation level, according to Reynolds. People's jobs hold steady in the wake of emerging technologies, even though the tasks comprising the position may change.
Where technology does cause disruption, it happens disproportionately to certain groups. Automatable jobs held by nonwhite workers experienced 5.1 more losses per 100 jobs than jobs held by non-Hispanic, White workers, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Technology also tends to compliment higher educated workers and replace the tasks of less educated workers, according to Reynolds. Civic institutions will have to evolve to lead technologists to promote greater shared prosperity around the developments, Reynolds said.
How CIOs can respond
While large institutional guardrails around how industries implement tech unfold, CIOs at the enterprise level can take some responsibility in shaping how the tech impacts workers.
"Technological change is certainly replacing work, but it's also creating new work," Reynolds said. By 2030, Forrester analysts expect automation to eliminate 29% of jobs, while contributing 13% to job creation.
Automation has been introduced time and again over the last several decades, but the technology brings new opportunities to the fields instead of wholly replacing members of the workforce.
"At this point now it's about taking that new technology, investing in skills for workers and transforming going forward," Reynolds said.
Reynolds recommends building internships and apprenticeship programs geared at training students or workers early in their careers on emerging skills, rather than looking for certain credentials in new hires.
"There's nothing more important than workforce skills and actual work-based learning for helping that next generation get there," Reynolds said.