Earlier this year I spoke to an expert employed by a property company to study the future of buildings and how they will be occupied. For decades, there had been no change in his role of sourcing offices for blue chip companies in every city you can imagine. But recently his company has begun to look to the future, because in a decade or two many of those clients may not need all that space any more.
When we think of automation of employment, the view has always been that the robots are coming for someone else’s jobs: in factories, on production lines, manual roles. But the rise of the machine is much more widespread. Artificial intelligence (AI), data analysis and machine learning are coming for all of us. Much of what we think about jobs that can’t be done by anyone other than skilled, educated, employees is wrong.
The world of finance is one example. A lot of trading activity is already run by algorithms. Banks are also investing heavily in technology to handle risk assessment, credit decisions, anti-money laundering compliance and customer service. There are already programs that can mine legal rulings for precedents, removing the need for lawyers to spend hours researching judgments. AI chat interfaces are replacing some of the HR process to screen job candidates without the need for face-to-face interviews.
We are merely at the beginning of the impact that automation is having on what many would have considered roles impervious to change.
Irish investment policy has been built around being the hub for servicing multinational companies. Those back-office roles in the near future may simply not be required any longer.