To cut it short.
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Humanity has always faced changes and innovations
As we have seen in our introduction to this major hot topic, there are concerns about AI stealing our jobs. But these concerns need to be addressed. We’ve already taken a few steps back to analyze our unconscious relationship with AI and also the biased perception we have of it. We have dove into major applications of AI in different fields that directly and quietly impact our lives, from healthcare to finance and safety. Now it’s time to face the truth, with facts and figures. We’ve left off with a question: how and why will AI steal our jobs, but also create new ones?
Humanity is made through progress, and progress necessarily means changes. We, as human kind, have already been through major waves of technological change: industrialization with two revolutions, IT, the introduction of the Internet and the advent of the digital. The world has always dealt with them, made the best of them and used the new discoveries and technologies to its advantage, progressing as a society. In other words, we’re all still here. That’s a fact.
It is undeniable that each innovation leads to partial substitution of work by machines. Let’s take Ford’s assembly line as an example. Its introduction meant significant savings in production time, sure, but at what price? Rows and rows of workers forced to perform repetitive, mechanical movements, over and over again. This process entailed alienation, motor disorders and serious accidents involving workers. With the progress and advancement of technology, today automation and the use of robots to perform the most repetitive or dangerous tasks have greatly reduced the negative aspects related to assembly line.
We’ve also already mentioned the Industrial Revolution in Part one of this article, how it made some jobs disappear or replaced them with the use of machines, but also created new ones that didn’t exist before, and they were hardly imaginable. We can say the same thing with the advent of the Internet and the Digital Revolution. Jobs such as those of developers, computer technicians, software engineers, social media managers, digital marketers, bloggers, digital entrepreneurs and so on did not exist. They were created from scratch. Another fact.
This is what will happen with AI. It will replace but I prefer saying save humans from all those repetitive, dangerous and risky tasks and jobs, creating new kinds of industries and new kinds of jobs that we don’t know yet, so it’s hard to name them. What we can do is show you some facts and tell you what AI will be better at than we are and where it can actually help us improve, or perform tasks in a safer and faster way, and also what it will never be better at.
Where and why AI will replace some jobs in the future
Humans make mistakes. Computers and machines instead are given instructions to perform error-free tasks, so calculations and typing are activities in which errors can be largely and easily avoided by them. So repetitive and meticulous jobs such as data entry can easily and more safely be done by an AI, instead of a human who gets tired, stressed and bored.
Human beings also face the challenge of being, well, human. Which means fragile and vulnerable. Machines and AI-powered tools are indestructible unless you hammer them. And even if they do get destroyed or broken, they wouldn’t feel it. Manual jobs like factory work and machine assembly and mining are quite risky and dangerous for the health and general safety of a worker. There are certain scenarios where employees come into contact with toxic fumes or extremely high temperatures, heavy machines and mechanical huge gears with which they have to interact, that can seriously injure them or unfortunately also kill them. AI can be used to keep human workers safe, making the process efficient, fast and accurate at the same time.
An example here is given by BostonDynamics robots. Spot, the name of one of their robots, remotely controlled (by a living breathing person), is used for tons of dangerous tasks for humans: mining measurements, construction evaluations, thermal inspections, high-pressure oil and gas detection, radiation or leak detection, all in a safe, accurate, and frequent way, where workers would usually take risks to their safety and health. Fact.
Let’s now talk about figures for a second. “The Future of Jobs Report 2020”, authored and issued by World Economic Forum, states that AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025. But that’s not it; the report goes on and asserts that AI itself will also create 97 million new jobs in that same period of time. This report is also backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to which there will be a faster-than-average job growth in many occupations that will be boosted thanks to AI: customer service representatives, web developers and software engineers, technicians from all fields from IT to geological to forensics to medical, and many more.
This scenario just depicted literally means that the more technology (any kind of technology) becomes part of our lives the more people are involved in this process. AI is no different.
Where and why AI will never replace some jobs in the future
On the other hand, there are also jobs that will still be there in the future, that humans will always perform better than any AI. These are jobs where at the basics there is a process and task of exclusive human skill. Let’s dive into them.
AI can’t make decisions. Humans are constantly making decisions in their jobs, on a daily basis. They are required to develop complex strategies and think critically, in order to find solutions and deal with unclear and unknown situations. Humans also make use of their intuition and prior experiences to make a decision. Let’s think about matters of national security or international alliances between countries; environmental positions, management and development of strategic plans of a business, policy, security and cyber defense of a company. But the list goes on and on: infrastructure and transport, politics, juridical system, foreign affairs, finance and investments. These are all fields that require human work and human skills, and that certainly cannot rely on the capabilities of an AI.
AI can’t think creatively. Humans have half of their brain totally dedicated to imagination, creativity and invention. Of course, some people are more creative than others, while others are not creative at all. This is because these skills are still a mystery to humans themselves. So is it possible to teach an AI something that is still so unclear to ourselves in the first place? Clearly not, that’s why we say that talent is something you can’t teach, you are born with it.
AI can’t have feelings. Humans (well, not all humans) are empathetic, compassionate, understanding, and able to create bonds with people. They are able to create connections and share thoughts and feelings. There are tons of jobs that require human connections, like the ones of the doctors, nurses, teachers, psychologists, social workers, volunteers, humanitarian mission workers that are built on human contact. Sure, they might be assisted by AI-powered machines and tools in the future, but they can never be replaced by them in their humanity.
And finally, AI can’t take care of itself. There is always going to be a human to build AI, train AI, teach it data, take care of its maintenance, monitor it, control it, create and develop algorithms, and carry on updates. It will certainly not be left to wander alone.
What should we expect then?
Catastrophic predictions about technological unemployment have been proven wrong in the past, and more recent predictions find that new technologies have not been accompanied by an increase in unemployment. Moreover, a loss of jobs caused by AI would simultaneously bring job growth (including new jobs, which we do not yet know about) of equal if not greater magnitude than the loss experienced.
We have seen that the impacts that the introduction of AI will have on the world of employment will produce, yes, a different way of working compared to the current ways and modalities, but at the same time, there will be new opportunities for consumption and work in other sectors, opportunities that will compensate or more for the loss of work that it might cause.
Like all things humanity faces in the course of its evolution and progress, it’s a matter of how people decide to use the tools it has. Hence, it means there should be a commitment to prepare for the future. Companies and institutions must invest in the education of young people to prepare them for the jobs of the future and also in the retraining of employees of today to keep them abreast of updates and new emerging skills. Moreover, big tech companies and governments should establish a collaboration that should run throughout an application’s lifecycle, considering all aspects concerning AI use in life, with rules, laws and regulations.
We have a tool in our hands. A tool that could really solve the challenges of today and the ones of the future ahead of us. We need to be smart and use it well to face them, without hurting ourselves. We’re definitely seeing some changes, they take time, so maybe we won’t be here to see further developments, but we need to be prepared and prepare the ones who will come next. No need to be frightened; we lead the game and we make the rules.
BostonDynamics (2022). [Accessed: 25 September 2022]. Available at https://www.bostondynamics.com/products/spot
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Thomas, M. (2022). ‘Will a Robot Take Your Job? Artificial Intelligence’s Impact on the Future of Jobs’. BuiltIn, 26 July 2021, updated 26 July 2022. Available at https://builtin.com/artificial-intelligence/ai-replacing-jobs-creating-jobs [Accessed: 25 September 2022].
World Economic Forum. ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2020’. Report available at https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf [Accessed: 25 September 2022].
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ‘Assessing the Impact of New Technologies on the Labor Market: Key Constructs, Gaps, and Data Collection Strategies for the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (2020). Report available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/congressional-reports/assessing-the-impact-of-new-technologies-on-the-labor-market.htm [Accessed: 25 September 2022].