A lot of the current debate surrounding the world of work is about figuring who will get the job in the future: machines or humans? We have covered it before, and we will continue covering it. But are we becoming too fixated with the idea that robots and algorithms will replace us, that we have stopped thinking about the future of work for us humans? Yes, the data itself shows that people will keep working! So in this edition of "Work → In Progress," we want to dig a little deeper to see how the future of work will look for us … and, yes: This is being written by a human!
IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID! While store giant Walmart has rolled out thousands of robots across the U.S. in order to clean floors and scan inventory, real cleaners are more in demand across Latin America, reports BBC Mundo, citing data by the Inter-American Development Bank. So, what is behind such opposing trends? Cleaning floors and scanning inventory can be easily automatized. But robots are too expensive for the up-and-coming middle classes in Latin America that only now enjoy more financial stability to be able to afford cleaners at home. And, unfortunately, low-skilled jobs such as cleaning are still poorly paid, and hence more affordable than buying cleaning robots.
SUPERJOBS A recent Deloitte study on human capital puts the spotlight on what they predict to be the future of work: Welcome superjobs! The idea is that one person will be able to do what several people used to do, combining digital knowledge with traditional skills. Does it sound somewhat ominous? Swiss financial platform Allnews says that superjobs will be "more interesting". But Steve LeVine, future editor at Axios, suggests that "superjob" may be just another word for "optimization of the workforce," i.e. more work for fewer people.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
Are we so blinded by technology that we can't even imagine what the future of work will look like? This article on future jobs by Italy's Corriere della Sera seems to suggest so, with a long list of computer-related job specs that seem to forget that the world will continue existing beyond the Cloud. The point is that while efficiency and profit will remain drivers of our expanding economy, and technology will play a huge role there, there are some sectors where the intangibles that humans bring to the job will be irreplaceable. We are talking about creativity, sensitivity, or simply that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes a difference in several industries.
FOR EXAMPLE, IN JOURNALISM … Forbes and Bloomberg are leaders when it comes to getting machines to do the writing. But they only do so when it comes to basic financial news, like writing up in full the opening of the stock market. If you need context, or deeper and nuanced analysis, that is something that only humans provide, and that is why both financial wires still have plenty of humans working for them.
... OR IN POLICING … In Turkey, Istanbul's new airport is testing a new baggage scanner device, reports daily Hürriyet. The new system requires minimal human supervision and can detect everything — even drugs — by scanning the bags in 360 degrees. Is this the end of customer officials? Unlikely so, as police will still require human knowledge to discern what constitutes a real crime.
... OR IN LAWMAKING In Estonia, "robot judges' will start handling small cases to make justice faster. But Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung warns about the dangers of leaving the law to Artificial Intelligence. "Binary-based decision-making systems do not tolerate interpretation, and their rigidity can fuel a techno-authoritarian society in which legal entities follow blindly algorithmic chains of command," says writer Adrian Lobe.
• Worldcrunch has the full Süddeutsche Zeitung article in English.
So, what does it mean if certain jobs won't die after all? It is likely to require more flexibility from us humans, and more use of our specific human skills. It will most surely require some upskilling and retraining, as Amazon plans to do with a third of its U.S. employees.
DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY If a machine doesn't take over your sector, employers will want to make sure that you're happy at work — because that makes you more efficient. Le Monde reports on the role of Chief Happiness Officers, or "CHO," which got started in the Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, but is now much more on demand even in France.
• Worldcrunch has the full Le Monde article in English.
LET GO OF STRESS So, if we continue working, we will still have to strike the right work-life balance. Latin American technology website Contxto reports on a Mexican startup that provides tools to make workers feel happier with their daily routine. For example, VR goggles that transport you to the seaside, or the Happy Bell to make sure you take breaks.
SMART OFFICE And maybe our jobs will be made easier by the place we work in. The German daily Die Welt reports on the potential danger of The Ship, a new office building in Cologne, which has 2,500 sensors that can take note of the occupancy, lighting control, and temperature preferences of the employees that work there. Will the building end up doing the work by itself?
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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