Last month, news broadcasts announced that an artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor, said to be the world's first ever, had gone live in China. 1 The AI anchor was modeled after a real-life news presenter, and is said to be learning from live broadcasting videos. The news, as I watched it on television, was accompanied by somewhat anxious-sounding jokes about how, in the future, AI broadcasters might replace the very newscasters who were presenting this story.
While there are numerous concerns about advanced technologies like AI, the fear of job loss, sometimes guised in jokes about "robots taking our jobs," seems to be the most widespread concern.
The job outlook
Some analysts who predict the effects of the current boom in automation offer a gloomy outlook for future jobs, while others take a more positive view and say that even though jobs will be lost, new jobs that require new skills will be created. Historically, the creation of new jobs after major technological advances, such as in agriculture and manufacturing, offer a precedent for this more positive line of thinking. Some advisors, such as Gartner (www.gartner.com), are even more optimistic and say that technologies like AI will create more jobs than they eliminate. 2
All analysts, however, seem to agree on one outcome of the current technological boom – that many will need to learn new skills to fill future jobs. A rather comprehensive report on this topic is one titled "Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages,"by McKinsey & Company (www.mckinsey.com). 3 In its report, McKinsey states that "Our key finding is that while there may be enough work to maintain full employment to 2030 under most scenarios, the transitions will be very challenging..."
The McKinsey report says that some of the job categories with the highest percentage of job growth include professionals such as engineers and scientists. And, our Newsfront this month, "Economy and Opportunity Drive High CPI Salaries," (pp. 13–16) outlines a very positive outlook for chemical engineering jobs in the future. It also discusses some of the changes that are occurring in the field and initiatives that are being taken to prepare future engineers. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), for example, is currently making plans to study and report on the changes expected in the chemical engineering profession, including those involving topics such as advanced computing, analytics, machine learning and AI.
Keeping up with the trends
Keeping up-to-date with the rapidly changing, digitalized landscape is challenging. Chemical Engineering strives to help in that endeavor by covering new technologies in each issue and on our website. Our Connected Plant Conference in February (www.connectedplantconference.com) also offers an opportunity to learn about current trends and meet others on the path to digitalization. We look forward to seeing you there. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director