Automation, AI and Outer Space: Tech and the Future of Work in Canada

Automation, AI and Outer Space: Tech and the Future of Work in Canada

Governments and businesses are looking to tech to solve society's greatest problems — from COVID-19 to climate change — even as innovations in AI and data collection present new urgent challenges
Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
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Technology’s pervasiveness is changing how we work, communicate, learn, collaborate, exercise, sleep, and live. In Canada, as in many other advanced economies, the growth of the tech sector has been a core economic growth strategy, especially for local economies looking to diversify their natural resource reliance. Technological innovations have been heralded as providing solutions to key global issues, such as climate change and COVID-19, as well as a way to create labour efficiencies. The growth of the tech sector has not been without pushback, as illustrated by the public concern over Sidewalk Toronto’s proposed smart city project on the waterfront (now cancelled), concerns over long-term impacts of digital data collection, and a push for new data protections.

In our new report, Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring possible futures of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world, produced in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, we’ve identified 34 meso-trends that could impact the future work in Canada. This report uses futures research and expert workshops to explore a broad range of trends—many of which have been accelerated, disrupted, or created by COVID-19—that have the potential to impact Canada’s labour market over the coming decade. This report is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, a prediction of the future, or a deep analysis of any one trend. It’s meant to explore and consider the potential for different trends to interact in ways that are not always obvious, as well as how these trends may impact populations and demographic groups differently. Here, we explore meso-trends related to emerging technologies that could shape Canada’s labour market in the decade ahead.

1. Automation Nation

Conversations about the changing labour market often focus on the impacts of technological changes, such as labour automation technologies. In Canada, industries such as food services, manufacturing, transportation, and mining all have strong potential for being impacted by labour automation technologies, and potentially half of Canadians’ jobs may be affected in the next ten years. Research shows that the adoption of automation accelerates during recessions, and a survey of 800 executives found that 50% have accelerated automation in their companies due to COVID-19, suggesting the impact may occur faster than previously thought. This impact may not necessarily be negative for Canadian workers, as Statistics Canada reports that Canadian companies who invest in automation technologies have 15% more workers, suggesting that automation does not necessarily result in job loss. 

However… Canada has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • Automated transportation and logistics services such as delivery drones and self-driving trucks and cars may become more prevalent. 
  • Automated cafes and restaurants could become more popular.
  • Canadians may seek out low-tech experiences to counter or balance their regular engagement with automated technologies.

Potential labour market implications: 

  • Companies may need to attract talent capable of onboarding and engaging with new automation technologies. 
  • While some jobs could disappear, other jobs could change and new jobs could emerge that leverage and complement automation-related applications. 
  • Growth in advanced manufacturing and robotics may require more high-skilled talent. 

Signal maturity: Mature 

2. Responsible AI

The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI)—the simulation of human intelligence in machines—is rampant across the world. The global AI market size was estimated at $52 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $81 billion by 2027. Society is coming to terms with the ubiquitous nature of AI and the impact it has on our lives. Following student protests in August 2020, the UK stopped using a biased algorithm that discriminated against pupils from poorer backgrounds to generate A-Level exam results, and in May 2020, Dutch courts ruled an algorithmic risk assessment technique that ostensibly detects fraud is a violation of human rights. Growing public awareness of the negative effects of AI and algorithms could lead to further pressure on technology companies to ensure AI is designed responsibly and ethically, and on countries to enact regulation.

However… a report from Oxford Insights and the IRDC has warned that some of the world’s most technologically advanced countries are not prioritizing and practicing responsible AI, and Google fired a leading AI ethicist for conducting research critical of the company.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • AI literacy—and understanding the social consequences of algorithms—could become a core aspect of education.
  • Increased public and government criticism of unethical AI practices could result in the break up of Big Tech companies and a mass rejection of AI-based platforms and tools.
  • Trust of Big Tech could reach an all-time high if ethical AI and responsible data collection practices become the norm.

Potential labour market implications:

  • As ethical tech design becomes increasingly important, people trained in the humanities and critical thinking may become more in demand in AI professions.
  • If codes of conduct and certifications in ethical AI design become the norm and a requirement, there could be a slowdown and pivot among AI start-ups as they adjust to new norms or regulations.
  • There might be an increase in demand for AI ethicists and positions that train product development teams in equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • There may be more demand for diverse tech talent in an effort to counter AI biases.

Signal maturity: Emerging

3. Space Jam

To date, space travel and work in outer space is reserved for trained astronauts, of which Canada only has four. However, as tech billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos launch space-related business ventures, Canada sees new investments in our space industry, and millions of exoplanets are discovered, we may see an increase in space economic development in the future. Already, NASA is working to attract business out into space, and Space Port Japan Association, Dentsu, Canaria, and Noiz Architects have proposed SPACEPORT CITY, a major transportation hub designed to support the commercialization of space travel. Life in space may be able to offer everything we need, thanks to the discovery of water and the technology to 3D print infrastructure in space, and perhaps equally important in our current times, the creation of internet for space

However… the carbon emissions associated with a rocket launch to space are equivalent to five transatlantic flights, which may, given the climate emergency, offer a case against expanded space travel in the future.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • Wealthy Canadians may choose to vacation in space.
  • Should the costs associated with space travel reduce over time, space could be used to house sick individuals who require quarantine or prisoners.
  • Space garbage could become a major environmental advocacy topic.

Possible labour market implications:

  • Increase in demand for aeronautical engineers.
  • Growth in products and services suitable for space living, such as packaging and compact living technologies.
  • Increase in spin-off technologies that are developed for space, such as 3D infrastructure printing, but have value and use in everyday life.

Signal maturity: Weak

4. Humans, Augmented

Technology development is underway that may make human enhancements possible, including brain implants, smart contact lenses, custom gene-editing, and tracking devices. Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-computer business, unveiled a pig with a chip in its brain and a start up in the United States, Kernel, raised $53M to develop a new generation of brain technology. Headsets are being developed so that companies can track employee stress, focus, and attention. While many of these innovations are in the R&D phase, 54% of US adults foresee a future where computer chips will routinely be embedded in our bodies. In the future, this may mean digital enhancements are readily accessible and workers obtain new skills or enhance their existing skills through tech devices. 

However… according to a Pew Research study released in 2016, 66% of Americans polled say they would “definitely” or “probably” not want to get a brain chip implant to improve their ability to process information.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • Cognitive enhancements may come into use, such as mixed-reality glasses combined with AI that can provide useful inferences based on what you are seeing and doing.
  • The labour market may involve 24/7/365 worker and employer surveillance, accompanied by debates on bodily autonomy, privacy concerns, and ethical issues, and by an enhanced focus on cybersecurity.
  • Opportunities may emerge for people living with disabilities in the form of teleoperated robots and telepresence at work, opening up new labour market opportunities.

Potential labour market implications:

  • Growth in a number of new sectors (software + hardware), including virtual environment design, gameful interfaces, real-world applications of AI, high-tech product development, and manufacturing of implants, components, and prosthetics. 
  • Extended health care services such as optometry, physiotherapy, and massage therapy could increase in demand as Canadians adapt to cognitive enhancements and their impact on the human body. 

Signal maturity: Weak

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For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

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