“Your job won’t be taken by AI, but rather by someone who understands and knows how to use AI.”Nicky Verd
When the San Francisco-based Open AI launched the Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot, ChatGPT, on November 30, 2022, industry watchers knew that a significant disruptor in the labour marketplace had arrived. Followers of developments in the digital technology space are no strangers to disruptive innovations, a term coined by Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard University in 1995. In the book, The Innovators Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (1997), Professor Christensen delved extensively into “Disruptive Innovations.” Recently there have been reports of students using ChatGPT for assignments. The App can deliver well-written papers on most subjects flawlessly.
Recently, Harvard University adopted Artificial Intelligence for some of its programmes. The institution launched the “CS50 bot”, similar to ChatGPT, to improve students’ learning experience in the coding class and assist instructors in responding to student inquiries. The Chatbot will offer criticism of the student’s code designs and errors and help develop their problem-solving skills on a 24/7 basis.
Also, in the US, there have been discussions on the need to develop policies that will guide the use of Artificial Intelligence in areas that could affect national security. The Brookings Centre on Regulations and Markets and the AI, Analytics and the Future of Work Initiative held a conference at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, on March 15, 2023, to examine the impact AI and innovations, such as ChatGPT, could have on the future of work. Speakers at the conference asserted that Artificial Intelligence algorithms would either “complement workers’ competencies and increase their productivity or reduce the employability of humans altogether.” They further advised that understanding these trends is critical for policymakers, company executives and workers.
Disruptive Innovations: Between the hopes and fears
In a PwC Survey, “Global Workforce Hopes and Fears 2023”, 52% of the workforce opined that AI would impact their career positively, 31% indicated that it would help productivity and efficiency, 27% stated it would create opportunities for new skills development, while 21% think it will create new opportunities for jobs.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), in “The Future of Job Report” of April 30, 2023, stressed, among others, that,
- Economic, health and geopolitical trends have created divergent outcomes for labour markets.
- Technology adoption will drive business transformation in the next five years.
- The significant labour disruptions come from environmental, technological, and economic trends.
- Technologies would have net positive effects on jobs in the next five years.
- Essential skills in 2023 would be analytical and creative thinking skills.
- 44% of workers’ skills would face disruption in the next five years
- 60% of workers would require training before 2027, but available training facilities may be inadequate.
Disruptive Innovations, undoubtedly, have led to job displacements, losses and even changes in business models. Observers of these trends give the example of the ride-hailing disruptor, Uber, which launched in 2009. The Uber launch, fortuitously, was an innovation that arose due to a challenging scenario that confronted two San Francisco-based techies, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, on a trip to Paris. It was winter, and due to the cold weather, taxi drivers would not move until a passenger initiated a contact. The duo could not get a driver; hence they got stuck in the hotel. As they wondered about the next move, they said, “What if you could request a ride by tapping your phone? That was it! That situation led to the development of one of the most effective ride-hailing services in the world.
Globally, traditional taxi-hailing services have faced significant competition and declining patronage due to competition from Uber. They have displaced several taxi operators, taking a considerable chunk of the market share in that segment. Statistics as of 2020 indicate that 93 million customers use Uber, with 3.5 million drivers, grossing $26.61 billion. It has 22,800 employees worldwide, with 12,400 outside the US. Uber completes 1.44 billion rides every quarter. In Nigeria, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, there have been reports of scuffles between Airport taxi operators and Uber and Bolt (another ride-hailing service founded on August 3, 2013) operators. Most passengers prefer Uber and Bolt for cost-effectiveness, comfort, and security. The taxi operators have complained of declining patronage due to the incursion of the hailing App operators into the business space.
A 2016 World Bank report estimates that 66.6% of jobs in developing countries may face redundancy due to digital innovations. The report indicated that low to middle-skilled administrative and routine employment might be affected, stressing that 40% of jobs in Nigeria could be affected due to automation of work processes (World Bank, 2016, p.23).
In 2018, the International Labour Organization (ILO) carried out a literature review of 255 studies on the Future of Work. In their inception report, tagged “ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work”, they made several significant findings on the future of work. The report indicated that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) would focus on technological innovations such as AI, robotics, Machine Learning and Analytics. The statement affirmed that jobs might be lost or replaced due to the introduction of automation, AI, robots, and computerisation, stressing that introducing these digital innovations could lead to job displacements and labour substitution. The report further argued that digital technology will be an essential factor for the future of work, stressing that job quality, for example, will depend extensively on an employee’s ability to use digital technology in the workplace effectively. During the Covid-19 lockdown, some employees who lacked digital skills and could not work remotely lost their jobs.
The Covid-19 pandemic in 2019 disrupted the global economy, affecting aviation, logistics, commerce, travel and tours, health, education, and family life. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, governments worldwide introduced measures, such as wearing facemasks, social distancing, and, eventually, a lockdown to curb the spread. Many organisations closed their offices for several weeks and months. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued advisories on the measures countries should take to curb the spread of the pandemic. Airports were closed, and travel, local and international restricted. The travel ban took a toll on the aviation industry. There was a total global lockdown. Amid the lockdown and ban on cross-border travel, digital technology came to the rescue, hence the emergence of remote working, the boom in online sales of goods and services, courier services, home deliveries, and real estate. Digital innovations have sky-rocketed post-Covid and introduced changes in work culture, job specifications and demography.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) Report of March 2023 indicated that 60% of the global workforce would require training in the next five years, depending on the nature of work, expertise, and experience. The report indicated that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, the Internet of Things (IoTs), Augmented Reality (AR), Big Data, and Machine Learning (ML) would play significant roles in the labour market in the next five years. The above-mentioned makes it imperative that employees and job seekers improve their digital skills to retain their jobs or be employable. Requisite digital skills are necessary for job retention and recruitment in modern organisations. Digital technology will disrupt the standard job requirements and culture.
In the ongoing debate, experts have opined that the Block Chain (BC) technology will structurally create disruptions in the financial sector, affecting banking, accountancy, and insurance. Experts believe digital innovations would also affect legal and translation services. Digital technology creates new opportunities for BC developers, Internet of Things (IoTs) architects, Cloud architects, Big Data, Data Analytics, AI, Robotics, Augmented Reality (AR), Machine Learning, and Deep Learning.
Emerging innovations are disrupting traditional business models and work as we know it. Therefore, this article is to sensitise job seekers and professionals about these developments so that they acquire the relevant skills for the emerging changes in job requirements. Disruptive innovations are not unusual; however, the positives are that these disruptions occur and, in that process, create new opportunities. Take Uber for an example and the opportunities it has created for young people to earn some income. Every disruptive innovation creates new opportunities. The innovations coming out of ICT Hubs scattered all over the country are worthy of note. The digital innovations in the Fintech space have created numerous job opportunities and simplified cross-border payments. Organisations such as Flutterwave, Accelerex, E-transact, Remita, Interswitch, Paystack, Paga, Piggyvest, Kuda, OPay and others took the risk, disrupted traditional business models, and stamped their feet on the global fintech map. Disruptive innovations are not bad, but the result of tapping human ingenuity to make a difference. Thus, people should upscale their knowledge to embrace disruptive changes.
About author: Tony Ojobo, former Director of Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), writes from Abuja.