Ruwandi Perera wonders what Labour Day will entail for humans in the future

1 May is when nearly the whole world is on holiday to mark Labour Day. While internationally, people may have stopped celebrating worker achievements and enjoy a picnic instead, in Sri Lanka it usually means political rallies and union gatherings to commemorate the rights of workers.

While we continue to celebrate May Day by not working, programmes, software and robots are doing what they do best – working. Effortless, errorless and effective, these robots may lead us to celebrate a ‘Labour-No-More Day’ in the future!

It’s been talked about for years… how robots and computers will take our jobs. But given that many jobs haven’t been lost yet, we’ve learnt to ignore this undeniable phenomenon and go about our working lives.

Ignorance has its limits and although there won’t be walking talking robots reenacting Star Wars or I, Robot and rendering us unemployed, the day is drawing closer… that’s when we’ll be of little use compared to our digital counterparts.

Hidden in computers – in the form of software, algorithm driven programmes or apps – robots are slowly but surely taking over human jobs. Mundane tasks, repetitive work and factory oriented occupations are at high risk. Other professions aren’t safe either.

Lawyers for instance, have identified areas where there’s been a robot invasion including analytical work that legal professionals take much pride in. Doctors too have realised that diagnosis and surgery are being taken over by cheaper and more accurate and effective alternatives.

Does this mean we need to stop digital advancement, saying ‘no’ to the plethora of benefits to humanity through AI or turning a blind eye to the power of robotics?

Not necessarily…

If farmers said ‘no’ to agricultural technologies that reduced the number of hands required, we’d certainly be paying more for produce than we do today. Had pilots ignored the benefits of using computer programming to aid aeronautical navigation, we may have suffered many more airline crashes and accidents. And if computers hadn’t taken over information processing, we’d never have experienced a fraction of the innovations that have improved our lives.

Development is about change and although there is resistance, the benefits almost always outweigh the costs. Change does not happen overnight and nor is it easy – sacrifices are made for the greater good but the development outcome is often revolutionary.

So why is there scepticism about digital development particularly regarding robotics?

Hollywood may have a part to play, having screened movies that depict the human race being wiped out by machines. The reason is perhaps the digital divide between what humans are game for and that which will change the game forever.

In an age when the world suffers not necessarily from a lack of financial resources, knowledge or research but disease, natural disasters, pollution driven calamities, and a lack of clean air, drinking water and food for all, there’s nothing to feel insecure about.


Well, there is so much work to do.

The advancement of digital technology and robotics has paved the way for humans to be more creative, innovative and humanly involved in solving the world’s problems, leaving the mundane and solvable tasks to robots. There’s a need for the next era of labour in the here and now – where technical dexterities, interpersonal skills and creativity are combined to make humans the initiators of advancement, and not only a beneficiary it.

Being technically educated will be imperative but this does not mean that we must teach all children to learn programming or coding. It’s about being technically savvy and digitally intelligent. Future competencies will revolve around higher cognitive, social and emotional, and technological skills.

Humans will be required to ramp up their creativity and ability to perform complex information processing and interpretation, and develop entrepreneurial skills, leader-ship proficiency and overall management know-how.

US based multinational IT, consulting and business process outsourcing company Cognizant has mapped 28 jobs for humans on the road to 2028. These include job titles such as Augmented Reality Journey Builder, Genetic Diversity Officer, Chief Trust Officer, Financial Wellness Coach, Data Detective, Personal Memory Curator, Ethical Sourcing Manager and Fitness Commitment Counsellor.

Analysts forecast growth in existing jobs across the board involving food, hospitality, entertainment, sports, construction and fitness.

Evidently, humans are in demand and remain the most precious resource of organisations. This means that we may be celebrating Labour Day for a long time to come – perhaps for more reasons than an eight hour workday.