AI: What you should really be worried about

Posted: March 9, 2020

How technology will reshape the future job market

Knowing about the magnitude of previous technological revolutions, many experts think we are currently experiencing another historical upheaval, known to some as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many workers face uncertainties about the consequences of this revolution, but one known tech development is artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is a recent innovation that makes tasks more efficient by learning from information it is provided. Most computers only know what is coded into them, or taught to them by humans. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, involves computer systems that have the ability to learn by themselves.

One of the main worries surrounding the development of artificial intelligence, a component in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is the automation of jobs. Many Americans who perform routine tasks for their jobs, such as manufacturing or data organizing, are supposedly at risk of losing their jobs to machines that are programmed to work cheaper and more efficiently. This raises questions about which jobs specifically are in danger of automation, what those workers will do if they lose their jobs and if there will be new jobs created from this revolution.

Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at The Graduate Institute in Geneva, points out a labor issue arising in countries like the US in his book The Globotics Upheaval. He points out two other periods of extreme technology advancement in the last three centuries: The “Great Transformation,” switching people from agricultural to industrial jobs, and into the city; and the “Services Transformation,” redirecting the focus to services, rather than industry.

Baldwin claims that the “Globotics Transformation,” which we are currently experiencing, will include automation and globalization displacing workers, and leading those workers to the service industry. Automation, or “white-collar robots” as he calls it, is a new threat to workers in offices, unlike the previous threats to workers in factories or farms. The other main issue is what he calls “telemigration,” which is the recent rise in US employers hiring people overseas to do digital work for cheaper.

Baldwin labels this as globalization, and claims automation and globalization work as a pair, causing the Globotics Transformation. He says jobs that will be mostly safe from this are ones that involve “lots of judgement, emotional intelligence, and dealing with unexpected situations.”

Carl Benedikt Frey’s recent book, The Technology Trap, discusses the reactions that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring. He states that “attitudes toward technological progress are shaped by how people’s incomes are affected by it.” If most people will benefit from the tech innovations, naturally there will be little resistance to it.

Frey found that 47 percent of American jobs are susceptible to automation, however, he believes that this change will happen very gradually, and widespread unemployment will not be a looming threat. Even philosophers like Karl Marx predicted that there would be huge uprisings and protests with the tech developments occurring back in the mid-nineteenth century, when in reality those developments were much more adaptable and gradual than anticipated.

Sam Terfa, Minnehaha Academy tech director, agrees that office jobs will be the most at-risk.

“AI can take the easier, more repeated tasks, especially the non-physical tasks, because robotics is actually pretty behind in terms of being able to accomplish physical tasks in the real world,” said Terfa.

The upside to the fact that machines will do mindless tasks is that humans will no longer have to do them. AI will not be able to completely replace jobs that require creativity or a mix of abilities – just a few individual tasks. This means that AI will likely work in unison with a human counterpart. This also means humans will be needed for creative thinking, which means humans will no longer have to perform as monotonous or tedious jobs.

Paul R. Daugherty, chief tech and innovation officer at Accenture, calls this trend the “third wave of business transformation” in the book he wrote with H. James Wilson, Human + Machine. He argues that automation will allow humans to be free from doing the grunt work that once was mandatory, and this freedom will allow humans to do what they do best: lead, empathize, create and judge.

While this transformation will cause some trouble for some low-income jobs initially, it will result in far greater achievements and progress in the long run with an efficient symbiosis-relationship between machines and humans.

Despite the fact that many details of these future machines are unknown, Ian Charpentier, M.A. parent and senior director of human resources at Duck Creek Technologies, believes high schoolers can still prepare for this reality.

“The things people should really focus on,” he said, “are being genuinely curious about new technologies, learning how to learn more effectively and being adaptable.”

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