I’d like to preface this post by saying that it’s simply my own opinion, based on my own experience. I could be right, I could be wrong. I genuinely don’t think humans have anything to worry about.
I’m not talking about mass automation of factories (a lot of which are already human-less), I’m talking about skilled professions that usually require training and a some form of certificate from a regulating body to participate in.
Let’s touch on a few key industries, there are too many to cover all of them.
AI has been in my life since as far back as I can remember. I’ve always played video games and in these games always encountered AI opponents. They can mimic real players on the screen because they’re no more than digital representations of people. They can say whatever we’ve programmed them to say. It was a good day when I could play Counter-Strike against AI at home rather than going to my local internet cafe with a group of mates.
Advanced AI and robotics has certainly got people talking, but to me it’s nothing new. For robots to be effective in real life, we need them to be physically able to do what a human can do. I believe this will take many years, because companies are formed to meet the needs of humans and not robots. AI and robots will be here to serve our needs, and ultimately their success depends on whether they make our lives easier or not.
As with any industrial revolution, change is afoot.
As soon as I educated myself on the topic, I realised what a good thing this will actually be for mankind. Let’s start by looking at a few different examples:
Think back to a time you felt so ill, you felt like you were going to die. Imagine calling a doctor. Would you want the presence on the other end of the phone to be an AI (dial 1 if your head hurts, 2 if your chest is tight, etc…) or do you want a human being? I want a human being. In fact, I often end up shouting down the phone when I get to an automated system that tries to interpret my words – yes HMRC, I’m looking at you. I want to talk to a real human as quickly as possible. Either that, or I want an AI that mimics a human being as closely as possible, able to have a fluent conversation with me. How far are we away from this kind of technology? Well we can already have a chat with Siri, or Cortana, but their answers are scripted. Humans have to tell them what they should say, and only AI that’s capable of learning will be able to answer in a way that’s not scripted. AI will always be based on computers, and computers will always be programmed by humans. Yes, computers could program themselves one day, but that will be something humans invent.
How AI will help: Us humans are quite limited if you think about it. We live for an average of 75-80 years, and there’s only so much knowledge we can absorb. There are exceptions of course! AI on the other hand can read every bit of text we’ve ever written in a matter of seconds, minutes, hours. This information can sit in its memory, ready to assist human beings. If AI can interpret input from a human doctor and spew out potential causes, medicine will take a step up to the next level. But I can’t see human doctors and nurses being replaced by robots anytime soon.
This is an industry that I feel faces the biggest challenge from AI. Companies like Tesla and Google are working hard and throwing millions at making cars drive themselves.
While this one will mean that a lot of drivers are worried for their jobs, but there is still a lot of work to be done before truck companies replace their drivers with a fleet of robots. Safety is still a major concern for example, imagine a remote hacker taking control of an 18-tonne truck? No, I feel that it will be some time before trucks and cars are able to make journies without a qualified driver behind the wheel. If we look at planes as an example, which mostly feature some form of autopilot system these days, they are still manned by 2 pilots. I know that Airbus A380s are landing themselves on autopilot, but they still need experienced pilots in seats to oversee things.
Also, relying totally on computer systems makes me a bit nervous. If you worked in the field of technology, you’d know systems regularly fail – and it’s never a matter of IF but a matter of WHEN. These systems would literally need to be bulletproof, and what happens if they fail? Lives would be at risk.
BUT… when they do get it right, which I think will be for the large majority of the time, it’ll be a game-changer. I for one am looking forward to the day I can program my car (or using Car-aaS?) to come fetch me after a night at the pub. For it to work, it’ll need to be cheaper than an Uber or taxi would be. This will displace entire industries, taxi companies and trucking companies. These companies need to literally keep a finger on the pulse and invest accordingly in their fleets. Of course these companies might decide that rather than retro-fitting their trucks with AI drivers (or buying new vehicles), it’s more cost-effective to keep using human drivers. Can you imagine a rush hour with no trucks? If AI was driving, we could program them to avoid clogging up roads during busy hours and not have to worry about humans falling asleep at the wheel.
Of all industries, I feel this is the most threatened. If I was a driver, I’d be looking at alternatives, but it’s going to be a good 5-10 years before major displacement happens.
Computers are good with numbers right? If that’s all that humans did, then yes they would be hugely at risk here. But calculators didnt mean that Mathematicians were out of jobs… I’ll stop right here, because that’s not what Mathematicians do. They are the smartest people in the world, and when they collaborate, we end up with things like the Atomic Bomb. It’s not just about equations, it’s about creativity.
This is an area where computers have already been assisting since their inception, because they can crunch numbers much faster than we can. We used (what’s arguably) the first computer to crack the Enigma, and they assist Mathematicians today sort huge amounts of data to essentially figure out the universe. Yes, it can all mostly be broken down into mathematical equations.
I think the biggest threat to Mathematicians is… themselves. They will use AI and Deep Learning to essentially enhance and empower themselves, ultimately reducing the need for large headcount. AI and robots won’t replace them in the next 10 years, but in the next 100 years – yes, probably.
IT Professionals currently work on both the infrastructure and the software that AI will on, and will be. They’ve been working for a long time on automating monotonous tasks and relieving pain that technology can cause. Technology will always be around, therefore so will technology professionals in one form or another. It goes back to the question: who do you want to talk to when you pick up the phone?
Will humans who fix computers simply shift to fixing robots? Maybe. If technology in the future is anything like it is today, there will be entire industries dedicated to their maintenance and repair, which creates jobs and opportunities.
Audits have already been taking place for a long time now to try and create efficiencies in the way that technology is implemented and supported. Enterprise Architects then map it out and work out when certain roles can be replaced by software. Take comfort though, usually the writing is on the wall long before jobs are lost though!
Consultants will be having very different conversations in 15-20 years’ time than they do today, but couldn’t we say that 20 years ago as well?
The Bottom Line
I choose to embrace change and adapt myself with it. If you choose to embrace change head-on, you will adapt with it and remain in control.
Till workers at the grocery shops were angry when self-service checkouts were invented. They were angry again when hand scanners came about. But guess what? Some people still choose not to use them. Until ALL people choose to use self-service kiosks, there will be some demand for a physical entity to be manning the tills. Note I say physical entity, because humans could probably be replaced by a purpose-built robot that grabs and scans your item for you. You’d probably still have to pack it yourself though. Of course grocery shops could make all their kiosks self-service and force people to use them, but there will still be humans standing by to verify your age when you try and buy that bottle of wine or when the kiosk stops working.
If your job simply involves moving a number from box A to box B, you should be bored – and worried. If it involves no human interaction, you might have realised yourself already that a robot could do it. Humans are lazy creatures, we will almost always choose the easiest way to do something.
Kind of like the story of the programmer who outsourced all his work to Asia and sat back and relaxed – maybe this is what we will be doing in future when there’s no need to work, except we’ll outsource our work to AI.
Are you scared of AI and robots taking your job? Don’t be. The internet didn’t kill retail stores, email didn’t kill the post office. Even fax machines are still around. Better still, think of how many people have become millionaires / billionaires off the back of these digital revolutions, and get excited – you could be next.