According to James Cameron, the robot apocalypse was supposed to kickstart in 1997, but here we are over 20 years later and the pessimism and scaremongering that once dominated the tech landscape has now dissolved into something altogether more optimistic. Although, as many of us are fearful of AI as those who are enthused by it.
However, as the famous American journalist, Sydney Harris once said: “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men begin to think like computers.” Indeed, there is no reason to fear AI mimicking human behaviour, particularly if it can do so convincingly.
Whether we accept it or not, AI is becoming a part of our everyday lives, with 26% of consumers believing that they interact with AI at least once a day. The actual number of interactions, however, is probably far higher and that speaks to how organically AI has been implemented into so many facets of our lives. When we’re checking into our online bank accounts, we don’t stop to think about the algorithms that sit behind every click and when we click on an online retail deal, few of us consider how that ad found its way to us, even though it seems perhaps a little too convenient - almost like your computer is listening to you.
The truth is, when many people (who don’t work in the industry, of course) think of AI, they think of robots, self-driving cars and dystopian science fiction. The future, however, is far more benevolent and infinitely more useful.
The ghost in the machine
Human and AI/robot collaboration is undoubtedly going to form a major part of ‘industry 4.0’ and not in the manner that Frey and Osborne predicted in their notorious 2013 study “The Future of Employment”. They posited that AI would lead to 50% of US job losses over the next two decades, but this study was seen by many as scaremongering, with dire predictions based largely on pontification.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), meanwhile, used an alternative model to produce an estimate that stated only 9% of jobs in the US were at risk due to automation and only 14% of jobs in OECD countries (including the UK and Japan). This study argued that Osborne and Frey took an “occupation-based” approach, whereas the OECD asked machine-learning experts to judge the “automatability” of an occupation. It pointed out that it’s not entire occupations that will be automated but specific tasks within those occupations. So who’s right here? Maybe a little from column A and a little from column B.
Are robots going to change the world?
Yes, of course they are, but not necessarily in the way many people think. Another comprehensive study was undertaken by Oxford Economics on the US workforce for the OECD. This study aimed to accurately evaluate how automation would impact jobs by income and sector. The study singled out three key factors that could drive what they refer to as a “hollowing out” of jobs.
- The displacement effect - Automation leads to low and middle-skilled jobs being displaced disproportionately.
- New jobs - Automation creates more jobs than it displaces, with analysts, automation configurators, automation control room staff and more jobs that didn’t exist before and will need to be filled now.
- Income effect - As more businesses invest in automation, productivity increases, and these gains are re-distributed to lower prices and increased demand in other industries. This leads to the creation of more human jobs in IT and also in areas that require more human skills (e.g. sales, negotiation and healthcare).
So, this study appears to point not to a deficit of jobs being caused by automation, but a surplus of jobs. It’s true that many lower-skilled jobs might eventually be rendered obsolete, but as long as the human workers in those roles are retrained and upskilled, there will be better (and more lucrative) opportunities waiting for them on the other side of the digital revolution.
Robots are our friends
Yes, robots and AI are going to change the world of business, but arguably for the better. By 2027, judging by current standards, it’s predicted there will be some incredible skill shortfalls - 23% in negotiating skills and a whopping 59% in programming skills. There will also be a 4% increase in healthcare workers and a 7% increase in salespeople.
The solution? Retrain lower-skilled workers in the areas where deficits are set to appear and allow the simple work to be automated. Freeing human workers from dull and monotonous tasks will add more value to their work lives (and their bank accounts) and allow them to focus on the actual human tasks.
A great example is the fraud analysis sector in banking. Roughly 50% of the effort of a typical fraud team is taken up by assembling the data they need to conduct their analysis. With regulators putting increasing pressure on banks to do more checking, intelligent AI automation can immediately take away 50% of the task. This gives these highly skilled workers the chance to do more with their time and focus on the tasks that an AI simply couldn’t achieve. (You can read more about this in another of our recent articles here.)
So yes, AI is going to make work more human, but it’s going to take a little bit of effort on the part of businesses and workers alike.
If you are about to embark on automation or are scaling up your digital workforce, we’d love to talk to you. Whatever stage in your journey, we can help.
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