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Olaf van Vliet in AD on the impact of new technology on jobs

Technological developments never stop. Machines can already perform many tasks and in the future they will probably take over even more of the work we do. Which jobs could disappear and which will remain in the future? Olaf van Vliet, Professor of Economics at Leiden Law School, commented on these issues on the website of Dutch newspaper AD.

Office assistant, data entry worker, medical secretary – these are some of the jobs that might soon disappear due to ongoing technological developments. Though perhaps worrying for the people who want this kind of work, it is not per se a bad thing that these jobs will disappear, says Olaf van Vliet. ‘For hundreds of years, jobs have disappeared due to new technologies. Think, for example, of the rise of the steam engine, the assembly line, computers, the internet and the most recent development – the smartphone.’ 

With automation and digitalisation, repetitive tasks, such as assembly line work, are the first to disappear. ’In insurance and banking, for example, you already see that customers can arrange a lot via an app. There used to be someone who did this for the customer, this job is now lost.’ On the other hand, there are always new jobs emerging in their place. ‘For example, jobs created by the rise of the mobile phone, such as repair workers or app developers. Twenty years ago, no one could envisage these kind of jobs.’

Besides jobs in the service sector, Van Vliet does not expect jobs in the education, care and legal sector to disappear soon either. ‘People will always be necessary in those sectors. Computers are nowhere near advanced enough to take over such jobs. You have to be able to make decisions, but also respond to human emotions. A computer can’t do that yet.’ ‘I don't have a crystal ball, of course, but developments in recent decades give no reason to think that in the future we should fear robots taking over our jobs.’

Read the full article (in Dutch) on the AD website.

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