Threat of Robots, AI and Automation to Jobs

Robots have been identified as a major threat to jobs. What are the factors behind this?


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There’s no denying that technology has become an essential part of our daily lives. The industrial revolutions of the 18th to 20th centuries brought technology that made human life easier and most of us are very plugged when it comes to everything from how we get our news to buying groceries and getting around. It all started with humanity mechanising and discovering new energy sources. From there,  the advancements of communications, and the birth of electronic devices and eventually computers changed life as we know it.

The buzzword in 2020 is the fourth industrial revolution or 4IR, for short. We are currently living through it in our daily lives and it’s mainly being driven by the rapid growth of the Internet. This revolution is characterised by many new computer-based technologies, such as AI, robots, automation, and the Internet of Things, which merge biology and physics with technology.

AI and automation are becoming more and more popular, which is amazing, right? Well, the answer is twofold.  One of the biggest fears in SA is that technology will take human jobs as it advances, and it’s not just here – it’s in first-world countries too.  Some researchers have estimated that 65% of kids that entered Grade 1 in 1999 will, in 2030, have careers that don’t exist yet. Though this statistic is still up for debate, it’s something we shouldn’t brush aside.

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Is this the beginning of the end?

While the threat of a future jobs’ doomsday may cause us a little bit of panic, the silver lining from all of this is that there’s an opportunity to take advantage of emerging business models that are more technology-focused.

A popular example of how technology took over a traditional industry is the metered taxi industry. Ride-hailing or app-based taxi services slowly began to become the more preferred mode of transport for those looking to get from point A to B.

The convenience and more transparent pricing made them more exciting and convenient to consumers than the old metered taxis. Now, a lot of the old taxis lost out but were able to become their own boss by working for the Ubers and Bolts of the world. If anything, this shows us that you have to adapt and that the future of business lies in what we make of it.

A sure way to future-proof jobs

So how then do we prepare ourselves for jobs of the future? Many African countries are still struggling with basic mechanisation, let alone 4IR. What this means though is that there is still a lot of room for growth and a deep well of untapped potential.

To be more specific, the time is ripe for entrepreneurs to tap into the digital economy and the underdeveloped manufacturing sector. The digital economy is a services sector, and opportunities like data analytics and getting goods into consumers hands will be key. Micro-manufacturing will help improve Africa’s self-sustainability in the future.

With some threat caused by automation, the good news is that machines in jobs of the future will still require some sort of human input and control. Entrepreneurs will need to identify these trends so as to position themselves strategically. Technology-based training is going to better equip you for the future. Also, the majority of jobs that machines will take over are the more repetitive and mundane jobs.

The other option

While slotting into the existing system as an entrepreneur is one answer, entrepreneurs will never be left behind. Even offline services that offer convenience, affordability and great service present opportunities as technology grows. The core skills that South Africans will need are running their own businesses and creating employment for others as a result.

I created the School of Entrepreneurship to help South Africa prepare for the future

The simple truth is, robots, AI and automation will affect us in a major way, BUT you can think of it as more of an advantage than a threat. As entrepreneurs, we need to follow the technology-focused industry trends, position ourselves well and adapt – but we can only do that with the right skills.

By teaching our youth to set up and run their own businesses, even as part of a gap year with meaning, we can help them have more promising careers and thrive in a changing world. Plus, this has added benefits beyond the individual, right into communities that really need it. We haven’t even begun to tap into the potential of entrepreneurship in this country, but we know that it is the answer to many of our problems as a society. Now it’s time to walk the talk.


Leon Lategan is The Entrepreneur Activist. He is the Founder & CEO of the School of Entrepreneurship where accomplished entrepreneurs set students up with the necessary knowledge, tools and skills needed to start an income-generating business within a year through their Entrepreneurship Mastery Programme, which is a more practical and affordable alternative to tertiary education. 

Stand a chance to win a bursary worth R19,900!

Discover how the programme sets matriculants up for success in life and business by attending a free Taking a ‘Gap Year With Purpose’ webinar. One lucky attendant will win a bursary when the webinar series ends.


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