Sunday, June 17, 2018

AI Impact on Jobs

There is a lot of debate about artificial intelligence, particularly on how it impacts jobs. 

Many studies have been released by companies, think tanks, and research institutions. And their prognostications can be alarming. 

The most commonly cited numbers are from three places: a 2013 Oxford study that said 47 percent of US jobs are at high risk of automation in the next few decades, a 2016 OECD paper suggesting that 9 percent of jobs in the organization’s 21-member countries are automatable, and a McKinsey report from 2017 that said 400 million to 800 million jobs worldwide could be automated by 2030. 

But it is not all gloom and doom. 

A 2017 Gartner study insists AI will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020, even as 1.8 million jobs are being eliminated. 

Svetlana Sicular, research vice-president at Gartner explained: "Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation and AI will likely follow this route". 

Maybe so, but it cannot be denied that most of the predictions are dire. 

There is really only one meaningful conclusion we can safely make and that is, we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress. 

Granted, we cannot stop this progress. 

Driverless cars, drones delivering packages and chatbots taking our fast food orders are becoming a fact of life. In fact, this entire “thing” of robotics and AI is now being called the next industrial revolution. 

Sure, it is accompanied by the fear of a large workforce losing its jobs and means of making a living. 

But if we look back at our history – there is cause for optimism. Really. 

When the first industrial revolution hit, factories and mass production drew workers to the cities in droves. Manufacturing put individual craftsmen out of business. Consumers could get products cheaper and faster and that was a good thing. 

Yes, workers were obviously displaced. But along with the “revolution,” new jobs were created and, over time, employment reached high levels. 

And now, with the new robotic revolution – our fears have re-appeared. 

Of course, technology will eliminate many jobs – it has always done so. 

But let's take comfort in the fact that we have seen a massive infusion of technology jobs that did not exist ten years ago: State-of-the-art programming, data science, web security, and so on. 

There is no reason to believe that the need for humans to create and manage new technology will diminish. In fact, we are so driven by creativity and innovation. 

In developed countries, with comparative salary data readily available for many industries, far fewer people are willing to enter into low-paying jobs that require little or no thinking and that do not allow people to have a decent lifestyle, given the wages they earn. 

Young people will have learned vocational-technical skills and/or learned to use the latest technology – that allow them to enter the workforce with the correct set of competencies. 

Look at China. Automation, through robotics and AI, has moved the country to become a major economic force in the global economy. Because of its focus on automation and new technology, China now exports far more than it imports, and as a result, is having a huge impact on the global supply chain. 

And India too. The country has moved into areas of technology that are in high demand.

It is said that outside of America, the Chinese and Indians are the most influential national groups in tech. Indisputably so. 

Be aware that there are jobs – the key is the right training of people to work within an environment of robotics and AI. 

It is worth noting that many calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation – that overshadows the greatest AI benefit, i.e. AI augmentation – a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other. 

The point is that humans and technology must work together, humans in control and the technology providing what it is programmed to provide. 

The idea that technology will replace the need for creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork and initiative is absurd. 

The idea that humans can leverage technology to provide a better world for all of us is not ill-advised, however. In fact, it is fascinating. 

Consider this: One of the industries that have seen the greatest disruption of robotics and AI has been medicine. We now have robotic and AI tools that can perform amazingly accurate diagnoses and precise surgery. Have we lost doctors to this technology? The answer is “no.” Doctors have simply learned to leverage the new technology to provide better healthcare. 

With AI, there will be new opportunities. And therefore, new jobs. Even as current jobs are being displaced. 

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