Artificial intelligence is a hot topic right now. More specifically, the conversation revolves around the danger of AI taking over human jobs.
There’s a great deal of worry around the subject, and much of it is justified. It seems like every day there’s a new, terrifying media report about how robots will lead to mass unemployment.
According to a recent survey of business leaders in the UK, automation could take 4 million British private sector jobs over the next ten years. In the U.S., 47% of jobs are considered to be in the ‘high risk’ category when it comes to being lost to AI. And the former president of Google China warned that AI will destroy half of all jobs during the next decade.
With all this doom-mongering, most people could be forgiven for feeling just a little anxious about the future when it comes to technological advancement.
But there may be no need to worry. While negative predictions dominate the press, there are also plenty of reasons to feel hopeful about the rise of machines in the workplace. They could make our work easier, and even lead to the creation of new jobs.
The real impact of AI
There’s no doubt that AI is going to massively change the face of employment and industry.
As technology becomes more powerful and accessible, it’ll become possible to automate more and more activities that were previously done by humans. Driverless cars could replace taxi drivers; self-service machines could wipe out the supermarket cashier.
It’s feared that millennials and younger generations will take the biggest hit — as lower-level employees will be easier to replace than those higher up the corporate chain of command.
And of course some areas are more at risk than others. Jobs in finance and accounting, along with retail and transport, are considered to be at much greater risk of automation than careers in healthcare and education. There’s a good reason for this — there are some jobs where robots are far, far away from being able to match good old squishy humans.
Machines might be great at processing complex mathematical problems, organizing spreadsheets, and carrying out thousands of tasks in the blink of an eye. What they aren’t so good at is empathy, forming human connections, reacting quickly in unfamiliar situations.
So teachers, nurses, and care workers are just some examples of professions that are — for now — safe from the robot revolution.
In these areas robots will support human efforts, instead of replacing them. They can take care of mechanical tasks like monitoring a patient’s vital signs and keeping a ward clean, leaving human staff free to attend to more compassionate needs.
This is why many high-profile figures, including Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, believe the threat from AI has been greatly overestimated. Not only could the technology support and improve existing jobs, it could also create new ones.
AI and job creation
As the numbers of machines and AI devices increase, so will the need for jobs surrounding them. Robots can’t yet look after themselves — they need human intervention at regular intervals to keep them running smoothly.
This means there will be a demand for people at every stage of the AI journey. From development and testing, through to support, maintenance, and programming, these devices will not be able to function without constant attention from human beings.
In fact, it’s thought that out of all the new jobs created just one third will be filled by actual AI machines. The remaining two thirds will be made up of professional services, performed by people.
In a recent study of 1,000 companies, implementing AI created job opportunities in 80% of cases.
It goes deeper, too. There is already a big demand for microtasks in the AI world — jobs like analysing data and images that rely on humans. These are generally done online, outsourced to remote workers around the globe. Some platforms like Amazon MTurk and Dbrain already provide such service.
This means there’s a growing market in developing countries for workers who can do these kinds of tasks. They can earn rates that are comparatively high in their economy, while companies end up paying less than they would to a worker based in a developed economy like the U.S. or Western Europe.
Not only is this a smart economic move for large companies, but it’s also an example of AI giving rise to new jobs in some of the poorest countries on earth.
The future looks certain to be dominated by talk about AI and how machines will impact our lives. The workplace is one area where advances in this kind of technology will soon be impossible to ignore — but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
By anticipating how artificial intelligence will change the nature of employment and how we do business, it’ll be possible to take advantage of this new technological landscape. Instead of living in fear of robots taking our jobs, we’ll be able to create new roles based around AI, and improve the employment prospects of people around the world.