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Australia needs to embrace automation or risk missing a $2.2 trillion boom

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THERE’S $2.2 trillion of economic growth available for Australia over the next 15 years, but we need to get our act together to ensure the opportunity doesn’t escape our grasp.

This is the harsh reality depicted by Google Australia managing director Jason Pellegrino who believes Australia is at risk from missing out on the trillion dollar boom offered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Google boss believes Australia needs to “speed up” its work on AI and stop fearing that the robot revolution will lead to job redundancies.

“Over the next 15 years there’s about $2.2 trillion of economic growth available for Australia through automation — that’s an enormous figure,” he said, reports Business Insider.

“And our ability to capture that will [largely] determine the future prosperity for Australia”.

Mr Pellegrino said mass unemployment rates as the result of embracing automation was nothing more than a myth.

“We need to make sure everyone is skilled. The human capital that has the skills to meet the needs of these future technologies of automation,” he said.

“Your job … is most likely going to exist in 15 years’ time but the way you go about doing that is going to be very, very different.”

These sentiments are echoed in The Automation Advantage report which explored how Australia’s 12 million workers will be affected by AI and machine learning.

The report said automation isn’t a force we can stop, but Australia’s economy has a lot to gain with $1 trillion coming from successfully moving all workers affected by the robot revolution into new employment and $1.2 trillion from accelerating the rate of automation.

In an attempt to prove there is nothing for humans to be afraid of, the report highlighted how machines have already replaced labour in a variety of industries over the past century, but we have still seen “increased prosperity, productivity and employment”.

Citing the creation of jobs that have only emerged in the past few decades such as social media managers and ride share drivers, economist Milton Friedman said “human wants and needs are infinite, and so there will always be new industries, there will always

be new professions”.

From 2000 to 2015, time spent by humans performing automatable activities decreased from 40 per cent of a typical 35-hour work week down to 34 per cent.

“Bank employees are spending less time counting banknotes and more time giving

financial advice; teachers are spending less time recording test scores and more time assisting students; factory workers are spending less time on the assembly line and more time

optimising production and training other workers,” the report read.

And according to the report Aussies will save an average of two hours from the automation of repetitive and manual tasks over the next 15 years, which will allow them to spend more time interpersonal and creative tasks.

The report also pointed out that despite growing concerns over automation taking jobs,

AI cannot function without a human mind that specifies the rules it must follow.

“Computers are still far inferior to humans in handling unpredictable situations that require out-of-the-box thinking, empathy and understanding other humans,” it explained.

When compared to other advanced economies, Australia appears to under invest in

automation technology and it could be costing us in the long run.

The report said Switzerland is the current leader, with 25 per cent of publicly listed companies heavily engaged in automation.

“These ‘automation leaders’ have been making continuous capital investments in anything from smarter machines to automation software between 2010 and 2015, which has helped boost the productivity of their workers by at least 5 per cent over that period,” it explained.

Australia is sadly behind the pack, with Mr Pellegrino suggesting we need to figure up how to speed up the rollout of new technologies.

“About 8 per cent of Australian-listed companies are actively investing in AI and machine learning technology. That compares to about 20 per cent of listed companies in the US,” he said.

“We need to double our pace of adoption in order to capture this economic growth. And we’re in a global economy now, so the implications of not speeding that up … is missing out completely”.

The report also found companies would save money from fewer working days lost to injuries sustained from physical work, with automation expected to reduce workplace injuries by 11 per cent by 2030.

It also found automation will improve job satisfaction for 62 per cent of low-skilled workers and will increase wages for non-automatable work by 20 per cent.

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