Trends: COVID-19 - Speeding up AI’s Transformation of Work



Artificial intelligence (AI) is causing a major shift in the global economy and is seen as a key driver and component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution will be more transformational than any other industrial revolution we have experienced, challenging our ideas about what it means to be a human. The current COVID-19 outbreak has sped up our entrance into this future world of work.

The power of AI lies in its capacity to add intelligence to existing products and services. The combination of AI applications and large amounts of data results in the continuous improvement of numerous technologies and processes in our daily lives. Research demonstrates that 45% of total economic gains by 2030 will come from product enhancements, stimulating consumer demand as AI drives greater product variety, with increased personalisation, attractiveness and affordability over time.

AI applications for sustainability are at an early stage, but the data suggests they could bring significant benefits in the medium term. While AI holds the promise of solving some of society’s most pressing issues, it also poses many challenges, such as the unethical use of data and potential job displacement.

Machines: Supporting or Replacing Workers?

AI, robotics and other forms of smart automation have the potential to bring great economic benefits, contributing up to USD 15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. This will generate demand for many additional jobs but there are also concerns that it could displace existing jobs.

Today, 50% of current work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. The predictions are that by 2030, between 400 and 800 million people globally could be replaced by automation.

The impact of automation should not be underestimated. Current predictions suggest that:

  • by the mid-2030s, 44% of jobs are at risk of replacement by automation
  • financial services jobs are vulnerable to automation in the short term, while transport jobs are more vulnerable to automation in the longer term
  • due to the sectors that they work in, female workers could be more affected by automation over the next decade, but male workers will be more at risk in the longer term
  • in the short term, the impact of automation is predicted to be low for workers of all education levels. However, in the long run, lower education levels will be more vulnerable to being displaced by machines

The Silver Lining

Fear of worker replacement persists because it is rooted in uncertainty about new job creation. It is predicted that between 2020 and 2022 more than six million opportunities will be created from emerging professions resulting from automation and other technology applications. The true challenge will lie in re-skilling people so that they are able to work in these newly created positions which are often very different from their original fields.

As the current COVID-19 crisis shows, AI appliances can also support the present workforce by making them more effective and by safeguarding productivity. AI techniques from deep learning, image classification and object recognition are used for prediction (calculating a person’s probability of infection) and diagnosis (via pattern recognition using medical imagery and symptom data). Work as we know it today will be reshaped by AI appliances and the COVID-19 crisis. Future collaboration opportunities between humans and machines will continue to unfold. We need to remember that AI is a tool and the value of its use in any situation is determined by the people who design and use it.  

What Does This Trend Mean for amfori Members?

As AI increasingly becomes imperative for business models across industries, we encourage our members to identify the specific benefits this complex technology can bring to conduct their businesses in a sustainable manner as well as consider the concerns about the need to design, develop and deploy it in an adequate manner. 

AI applications are best used for narrowly defined purposes and tasks as they do not have the same capability as a human brain for decision-making, intelligence or general-purpose learning. Therefore, support and guidance of human workers will remain necessary in the near future. To be able to optimise the human-machine interlinkage, more awareness and education around AI will be necessary to improve AI understanding and train workers that are able to work together with AI-driven machines and technologies.  

We are committed to supporting our members in understanding the opportunities and pitfalls that AI offers, as well as advocating for effective use of AI to further the SDGs.

Read our other Trends articles in this series: 

Trends: Clicks Not Bricks – The Rapid Growth of E-Commerce

Trends: Financial Sector Shifts to the Climate Crisis

Trends: Climate Activism and Green Politics on the Rise