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Evan Davis on... computers vs jobs

Updated Friday, 16th October 2009

With technology advancing and jobs depleting Evan Davis, presenter of The Bottom Line, discusses the role of computers in the workplace.

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There are some jobs, there are some industries that you can imagine effectively being replaced by a computer. You look at what’s happened to stock exchanges, for example. We had loads of people employed running around, carrying bits of paper, executing transactions – well, all of that’s gone, we have lots of stock exchanges now. They’re just big computers and a good chunk of software that allows the transactions to be done far more effectively and far more quickly.

But does that mean computers always destroy jobs? No. You see, the computing power sometimes allows the job to be done so much better, and so much more to be offered that the computers then become quite complicated and you have to employ people who specialise in running those computers.

I mentioned this because I’m interested in whether, for example, the business of being a travel agent or a travel management company, as they call themselves these days, whether that’s something that would be driven away by better computers, by the internet, by us just ordering our own tickets without an intermediary, and it turns out that there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that happening.

Of course, a lot of retail travel agents have gone out of business as we book our tickets via websites such as Expedia, but travel companies haven’t gone out of business, because the job, for example, of managing corporate travel accounts has become a more sophisticated job. Now companies can have information systems that track where people are, track what’s being spent, arrange good deals with chains of hotels or particular airlines, it’s a much more complicated job; yes, it’s done by a computer, but it takes a specialist to operate the computer, to work out the systems, to keep track of all the accounts.

So, instead of the computers just eradicating jobs as they have on the retail travel side, they also create jobs as they have on the business travel side. It’s an interesting fact isn’t it? Well, that’s my opinion. You can join the debate with the Open University.

 

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