Will Your Job be Replaced by AI & Automation?

Malaysia and the state of Penang in particular is poised in the heart of Southeast Asia as a meeting point between the past and the present. As we find ourselves in the thick of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one question is on everyone's mind: “Is automation going to take away my job?”. This article aims to provide a balanced perspective on this critical issue. No doubt, maths and machines are becoming the essence of several industries that can stimulate lots of concerns. We’ll discuss the most automatable sectors, new emerging jobs in the digital age, and how you can stay relevant in an ever changing job market.

AI and Its History

In order to grasp the current wave of automation, first one must know the concept behind Artificial Intelligence commonly known as AI. As such, AI is often more than just a catchphrase tossed around at tech conferences and meetups. In essence, AI is an arm of computer science that enables machines to think, learn and take actions like humans. AI is able to process, analyse, and learn with large data volumes at an incredible rate that is beyond human’s reach.

But, the thought of automation and AI is not fresh. The concepts underpinning the present day’s power of AI are not new; they date back many centuries from when the processes of automating work and employing machines for enhanced effectiveness. Machines were invented during the Industrial Revolution to perform functions once done manually. In a parallel way, the digital age brought up computer software that was more efficient than any human being at handling figures and giving orders. In fact, today’s AI simply adds to this ancient idea in which technology expands human capabilities.

Some people may even not suspect that they have been communicating with artificial intelligence every day. That is in reference to those personalised movie recommendations on streaming platforms. That's AI at work. How about the spam filter in your email box? That's also AI. Algorithms are what makes up the core of AI, even for ordinary activities such as calculation and time management.

And yet, in so many others, AI is an evolution, not a revolution. This is the next step on our continuing journey to utilise technology in order to streamline processes, enhance decision-making and enrich our lives. Therefore, when people worry about AI “taking jobs,” it is important to note that it’s not the first time we face such a situation. The introduction of ATMs created a kind of fear that banks would no longer need bank tellers. Rather, ATM machines permitted banks to increase their branch network in number and generate posts for new tellers but doing new functions.

The Automation Landscape

But before we dig into the nuts and bolts, let’s step back for a moment and get a good idea of the automation landscape, particularly as it is playing out right here in our own backyard. One cannot fail to recognise why people often refer to Penang as the “Silicon Valley of the East”. We are in the heart of a tech boom that is revolutionising the game like we have never seen. This move to automation is a long-standing trend that began moving exponentially faster with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and data analytics. That is no cliché; they are transforming the very foundations of certain industries and therefore, what these jobs entail.

Automation is not just a concept here in Malaysia and particularly Penang. It's a major economic force. Take manufacturing, for example. It has been a mainstay of Penang’s economy for ages and one of the first to have embraced automation technologies. But AI is about to move the goalposts, and shake up the job market again in ways we can’t predict.

The Evolution of Automation in Manufacturing

While automation in the manufacturing sector is not entirely new, its depth and pace have undergone significant transformation. In the past, robots could do simple functions like moving things on conveyor belts but they can now perform delicate procedures that require surgical accuracy like welding and painting.

At one point, automation was all about freeing us from tedious manual labour. Now, however, robots are taking over. To put it another way, they’re doing tasks that are not just repetitive but also complex, demanding a level of accuracy and consistency that can be challenging for human workers.

But here's the reality: on one hand, robots are making factories more efficient but on the other, some jobs face risks. Such types of jobs are the ones that require repetitive manual labour. McKinsey Global Institute states that almost 50 percent of the work in Malaysia can be automated with today’s technology. This is an eye opener, signalling the urgent need for upskilling and retraining to remain relevant in the workforce.

The New Frontier of the Service Sector

The service sector is fast becoming the next darling for automation in Malaysia, driven primarily by AI technologies, especially in the realm of customer service. Sophisticated chatbots and automated Customer Management Systems are either augmenting or replacing what was once considered a strictly 'human' role.

Recently, I had an interesting dining experience in George Town, arguably te culinary centre of Penang. As I sat down and browsed the menu on a tablet, I noticed something out of the ordinary: there were no strutting waiters. Instead, cobots - collaborative robots working alongside people - whizzing between tables, their screens filled with a friendly emoticon.

My curiosity was piqued, and I was eager to see how this restaurant had integrated technology into its service model. After placing my order through the tablet on the table, I was pleasantly surprised when a cobot arrived just minutes later. It navigated the dining area with surprising agility, its tray neatly arranged with the dishes I had ordered, avoiding obstacles and diners with ease.

It was not only a new exciting experience, but also a vivid example of how automation and AI is penetrating in even the most traditional sectors such as food servicing. These cobots supplemented the dining experience with an added layer of efficiency while being unable to replace the human touch in most aspects of hospitality. They removed the possibility of having an incorrect order as well as speed up the delivery of my food.

Furthermore, this incorporation of technology made me extend my evaluation and asked myself about the greater impact on the job market. Besides, as they continue to scale, there will be a change in the skills expected in different industries. The roles may transform to one of managing and maintaining these automated systems as opposed to doing things that the machines can do more efficiently.

Although AI has been increasingly successful in handling such tasks, it still misses the EQ needed to deal with complicated customer needs. Thus, for as far as anyone can see, the human involvement in customer service is unreplaceable.

The Quiet Transformation of Administrative Roles

The landscape of data entry and admin roles is quietly but dramatically changing. These days, software can handle a wide range of tasks that used to be done by hand, from entering data to actually interpreting it.

Take Optical Character Recognition (OCR) as an example. It scans various types of documents and turns them into formats that you can edit and search. Yes, the technology has been around for some time but the tech doesn't stop there. Once OCR does its thing, machine learning algorithms step in to sort and analyse the data, and even make future predictions based on it.

Here's the thing: while traditional data entry jobs might be on the way out, new roles are cropping up that require a different skill set. Instead of just entering data, these new jobs focus on interpreting it and making decisions based on analytics.

The Silver Lining & Emerging Job Opportunities

There is no doubt that automation and AI technologies are phasing out certain roles which would particularly be repetitive and low skilled; but the coin does have two sides. Automation has also provided the impetus to create new jobs which were not even expected barely one decade ago. Such skill sets are increasingly different, and are substantially based on creativity attributes, sophisticated problem-solving skills as well as intelligence of the emotions. These are however not only hypothetically future prospects but real current roles where tech industries are blossoming.

Software Engineers

Software engineers have continued to grow inseparable with the events in a digital age where every business and services are being driven on line. These professionals are the digital world’s architects and builders, who create software applications that run the gamut, from e-commerce websites to mobile apps. Some of the common languages and tech stacks include Kotlin, Python, JavaScript with their modern frameworks and libraries like MERN stack (MongoDB, Express.js, React, Node .js) and PHP etc. Frontend and backend development, databases are the areas of understanding for engineers as well as cloud computing services in most cases. Considering the dynamism in this field, one must trust on lifelong learning and versatility to remain relevant.

Data Scientists and Analysts

Data, in today’s world, is compared to oil; it supplies the digital economy. These companies are collecting huge data ranging from consumer behaviours to market trends. Such increase in the acquisition of data has translated to an increased need for data scientists and analysts. These professionals must comb through huge datasets to pinpoint useful intel. This role involves a good knowledge of statistics, data visualisations, and business strategy. In most cases, the programmers should be well conversant with programming languages such as Python and data visualisation entities like Tableau. Additionally, good communication skills are also important because data scientists must convert their highly intricate findings into simple strategic proposals that decision makers can understand.

AI and Machine Learning Engineers

With better technological advances in AI, the need for engineers who can develop and keep these systems is rapidly increasing. A good background in computer science, programming and machine learning algorithms will come into use for an engineer in this field. There is also a necessity to be strong in languages such as Python, Java or C++ and possess an advanced knowledge of machine learning libraries along with frameworks like TensorFlow or PyTorch.

Cybersecurity Specialists

Never before have we placed such emphasis on cybersecurity, as our lives and economies are being digitised. With the increase of cyber threats, including data breaches and ransomware attacks, companies have been in need of cybersecurity experts. Such specialists secure systems, networks and data from digital assaults. It involves specialisation in information security, network protocols and sometimes, ethical hacking. They should also be familiar with security frameworks and compliance regulations. The nature of the work is very sensitive and thus high integrity and being up to date with the rapidly advancing threat landscape are prerequisites.

The Path to Relevance

The term "upskilling" might sound overused, but its importance is undeniable. Upskilling is more than just learning a new set of skills or mastering a new tool; it's about a fundamental shift in mindset. It's recognizing that the skills that got you to this point may not be the ones that will bring you into the future. In a world rapidly being reshaped by automation and AI, doing nothing is not an option.

Digital age, like the ocean which has different depths, invites us for further exploration. At first we just stand at a distance watching the flow of its waters. Later on, however, when we have accumulated enough information, we become the artists of our own streams. From being merely a digital citizen to becoming a creator entails not only technological understanding but rather represents a deep transformation, which turns passive adoption of new media into its active creation.

We are initiated as Digital Citizens as we are all consumers of technology. The familiarity of digital platforms provides us with that comfort; convenience in life we crave. Just as in the case of the early explorers who discovered new lands, in the first instance we try to discover the digital landscape. We are users, mere consumers of a plethora of applications and tools technology offers. It is true that while tasting it we already wonder what might be hidden under it.

As we feel more comfortable, we desire to collaborate even more. Here, we become Collaborators. We now collaborate with fellow digital travellers employing online platforms such as Slack and Zoom to build relationships. Here, the digital world changes from an area of lonesome exploration into a shared environment. We realise that synergy in the digital domain entails utilising optimization tools not for one’s individual use but to lift group dynamism. This is a period of joint exploration and joint achievements.

Nevertheless, collaboration is only the first step towards a much greater goal. Over time, we see the gaps and the problem that calls for certain remedies. The Innovator within is thus awakened here. We do not just use technology as provided; instead, we start tweaking, turning, and maximising it for specific problems solved. It takes an entire turn when we change roles in relation to Technology so we direct it rather than it leads us. We are not only passengers on the digital way - we build it along.

However, transitioning into creators becomes the apex of digital advancement. It is not just a stage where you use, cooperate, or even innovate. It's about vision. Visionaries are the creators who perceive where the digital world is heading. They are not satisfied with the current situation, they look at the horizon, thinking of the future. This is the group of pioneers, who goes where no one has gone before to do some real research and make real breakthroughs. They are not content to merely use technology; they want to conceive and design its future.

On our journey through the digital age let us know that this is not a straightforward journey but a spirited one. The present generation of creators lays the foundation for the future digital citizens through their journey of inquiry, collaboration, innovation and creation.

Our journey into the digital universe is transformational and ongoing. First, we make digital sand prints and with enthusiasm and commitment we can engrave roadmaps for others to follow. It’s not just a journey of where and when you start, but where you are heading. So, as you navigate the vastness of the digital ocean, remember: An explorer is in essence a map maker, laying the foundation for future pathways.

In Malaysia, the tech industry is thriving, and both the government and private institutions are offering a variety of upskilling programs. These range from short courses in data analytics to intensive software development bootcamps. The resources are available; what's needed is the initiative to make the most of them.

Being prepared for the inevitable changes means understanding the broader landscape and how it impacts specific sectors. This isn't just about securing our jobs; it's about positioning yourself for emerging opportunities. While the future is uncertain, one thing is clear: automation is here to stay, and understanding its implications is the first step in turning challenges into opportunities.

So, whether you're in a stable role or one that could be automated in the future, now is the time to act. Invest in yourself. Pick up that new skill, enrol in a course, or even consider a career change if your current path seems to have limited prospects. The most secure job is one you create for yourself through continuous learning and adaptability. At Forward College, our mission is straightforward: to develop a workforce that is not just tech-savvy but truly tech-competent. Our aim is to nurture individuals into becoming creators of technology, not just consumers, by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in an increasingly automated and digital world.

Posted by
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Read more blog posts