If you read too many articles about the future of work you may think Armageddon is on its way for your job and everyone else's.
But though technology is wiping out some jobs, there are many positives, says Justin Gray, managing director of Accenture New Zealand.
The multinational consulting services company has released its annual Tech Vision 2019 research report and Gray says among other developments we're approaching a "post digital" world where workers will benefit from the new technologies.
When, in the not too distant future, the digital playing field evens out, New Zealand companies will need to find a competitive edge to meet the expectations of consumers, employees and business partners, he says.
The Productivity Commission has also launched a 13-month investigation into technological change, disruption and the future of work.
From previous experience, says Dave Heatley, principal adviser at the commission, the common message regarding digital disruption of jobs may be the worst case scenario and the reality of digital disruption may not play out quite that badly.
Gray says while the next wave of technologies: distributed ledger technology (DLT), artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR) and quantum computing (DARQ) are going to be game changers, they're not going to replace humans.
"We are not looking at a battle of human versus machine."
We're looking at a "post digital" future with technology unleashing humans to create, lead, improvise and use judgment, says Gray.
Humans are always going to be in the picture, says Gray. "The machines are there to give us insights to use in our judgment, and support humans doing the complex things."
Gray cites an example of insurance where the human can be interacting with a customer, while the technology is analysing the phone call and completing the claim form. "It enables the human to be showing empathy and focusing on the human nature of the conversation."
Another example, says Gray, is social services dealing with vulnerable people. "We can be using productive capabilities of machine intelligence to support the decision-making. The machine can make recommendations to tell [the human worker] what has been successful previously. The AI supports decision-making by making recommendations that ultimately are still supported by human judgment."
These technologies are finding their way into small and large companies. Kotahi, New Zealand's largest supply chain collaboration, founded by Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms, is using artificial intelligence to analyse data and predict future demand and container capacity requirements. This ability of machines to do the repetitive work releases humans from these tasks.
Heatley, who will lead the Productivity Commission's study, says the end of jobs as we know them has been predicted for decades. It's only in the past five to six years that the technologies have made significant leaps forward and have the ability to impact jobs as predicted. For example, the capacity of computers to classify images and understand natural language, has gone ahead in leaps and bounds. When many predictions were made a decade or two ago, computers simply didn't have these abilities.
"It has been a sudden improvement in what has been quite hard problems to solve [and has] led to hype cycles. Suddenly everybody thinks everything is going to change overnight.
"Lots of money is poured in and we get a bunch of predictions. Following on from that people ask: 'if all these predictions come true what does that mean for the labour market?'
"Those predictions have gained a bit of a life of their own and some of the caveats around them tend to get forgotten," says Heatley.
It would be irresponsible, he says, to hide the risks, but it's also irresponsible to overstate them at the beginning of the study.
Although there are no conclusions, Heatley says if we are entering a period of uncertainty around the labour market then workers could be thinking about what the demand for their job is going to be and where there is going to be a shortage.
Young people considering tertiary study, or workers looking to upskill or retrain ought to consider careers that will have shortages and the remuneration reflects the study. Heatley says if you are in a career where the future is very uncertain you should diversify. If you know what is likely to happen in the future, then specialise.
Key research findings
●94 per cent of executives reported that the pace of innovation has accelerated over the past three years due to emerging technologies.
●89 per cent of businesses are already experimenting with one or more DARQ technologies.
●41 per cent of executives report that AI will have the greatest impact over the next three years.
●71 per cent of executives believe that workforces are digitally mature and "waiting for the organisation to catch up".
●85 per cent of executives said that the integration of customisation and real-time delivery is the next big wave of competitive advantage.