What will the job market look like in 30 years?

November 22, 2016 12:18
News agency AP has begun using robots to write standard reports that cover company results and sports events. Photo: The Daily Dot

Last weekend, I attended a seminar during the 10th anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong's Journalism Education Foundation.

The seminar focused on how media companies and their employees are coping with emerging challenges from new technologies. Among the things that came up during the discussions was whether computers will replace journalists some day.

As the world rapidly embraces new technologies like automation, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence, it is true that many jobs, in several fields, will be on the line in the coming years. 

New technologies promise to boost productivity tremendously, but they also threaten to take away our jobs.

Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Houston-based Rice University, said he expects that within 30 years, machines will be capable of doing almost any job that a human can.

And only 10 percent of the current workforce will be needed to do the planning and give instructions to robots. Hence, a lot of people will be out of work.

Vardi predicts that by 2045, the global unemployment rate could surge to 50 percent from 7 percent at present.

Would it create a serious social problem? And will we have a situation akin to that depicted in the sci-fi thriller movie Snowpiercer in relation to the future of the humanity -- elites inhabiting the extravagant front cars of a train and the "scum" inhabiting the tail in squalid and brutal conditions?

Vardi's vision may be overly pessimistic but it is undeniable that robots will increasingly squeeze humans out of their jobs. And it's already happening.

For example, robot journalists in the Associated Press wrote thousands of stories last year, mostly about listed companies' earnings and sports news.

The automated technology has proved to be highly accurate in reporting on standardized topics, and was extremely fast. A report on a listed firm's results could be churned out in a second.

AP's robot journalists are branching out to simple analysis and commentary on top of news reports, with a byline of Automated Insights.

But perhaps the outlook won't be so bleak.

At the weekend seminar, a computer science expert pointed out that the working population has kept expanding in the world, despite predictions many years ago that there would be no jobs for humans.

Computers and robots have replaced many human jobs, but new jobs keep appearing because human needs and wants are always expanding, the expert said.

The question is who has the ability to fill those new positions.

At the recent World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the global economy will shift toward a creative-driven model in the next 30 years, moving away from a manufacturing-driven one. 

Even in the robot era, creative industries will thrive. Those who can cater to our emotional needs, think outside the box, identify new problems and supply appropriate solutions will still have a bright future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 21

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist