Will Artificial Intelligence Take Your Job?

Artificial intelligence and robotic automation may eliminate some jobs – but they’re jobs most of us don’t want to be doing anyway, says Stuff editor Craig Wilson.

Published: November 2018
Video/Photos: Supplied

Since its first on-screen appearance in Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, it’s been suggested that artificial intelligence (AI) might one day render humans obsolete… Or human workers at the very least. While this might be true of many industries that are ripe for automation, there are some fields where AI can’t cut it, and likely never will.

 

Moreover, as anyone who’s ever barked orders at Siri or Google Assistant will tell you, if AI’s going to take over anything more than the most rote and repetitive tasks, it’s going to have to get a whole lot smarter. The AI in your pocket might be able to play you a song or tell you what’s on your calendar, but getting it to design a car people want to buy, or compose a symphony they want to hear, is still a long way off.

 

The AIs have it

 

In a fascinating, recent TED Talk, computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee explains that three main categories of work are those most likely to be usurped by AI: repetitive jobs, routine ones, or those that are focused on optimising others. That means if you’re a call centre agent, a dishwasher, a burger flipper, a truck driver, a security guard or similar, you’d do well to consider a career change. But then, if you’re any of those, odds are you’re already looking.

 

That’s not to say it’s only menial or physical labour that’s in danger of obsolescence. Consultants who scan balance sheets, diagnosticians, reporters and even research analysts are, according to Lee, similarly endangered.

 

 
Three main categories of work are those most likely to be usurped by AI: repetitive jobs, routine ones, or those that are focused on optimising others.
Computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee explains that three main categories of work are those most likely to be usurped by AI: repetitive jobs, routine ones, or those that are focused on optimising others.
The rise of AI presents a real opportunity for growth in jobs that require compassion and empathy – jobs like carers, social workers, teachers and crisis hotline volunteers.
There will be a slew of new positions around programming, maintaining and designing the machines.
 

“When it comes to pattern recognition, it turns out we’re good, but machines are simply better.”

 

IBM’s Watson computer – which famously triumphed against human players on US game show, Jeopardy – is being used to diagnose ocular diseases with greater accuracy than its human counterparts. Meanwhile, AI is also being used to quash traffic fines and prevent frivolous litigation, and it’s writing up financial reports and summaries of statistics-heavy sports like basketball and baseball.

 

Why does AI excel at these things? It’s all thanks to a relatively recent development called deep (or machine) learning. Thanks to the rapid increases in computing power, combined with its equally rapid miniaturisation, we’ve been able to build computers that can take enormous data sets, analyse them, learn from them, and then make decisions or predictions based on them, while adapting to subsequent data along the way. When it comes to pattern recognition, it turns out we’re good, but machines are simply better.

 

What jobs are safe from AI?

 

So, what are lowly, emotional, forgetful, fickle humans to do to try and compete with machines able to concurrently hold billions of data points in mind and make decisions without the biases so unavoidable in people?

 

Play to our strengths, of course.

 

As Lee argues, the jobs least likely to meet their doom at AI’s virtual hands are the complex, and the creative. So, if you’re a C-level executive, an expert at mergers and acquisitions, you’re most likely safe. Similarly, if you’re an artist, columnist, novelist or scientist, you may have a long career ahead.

 

In addition to the complex and the creative, there’s a third ‘C’ worth considering: the compassionate. Lee says the rise of AI presents a real opportunity for growth in jobs that require compassion and empathy – jobs like carers, social workers, teachers and crisis hotline volunteers. Perhaps, he suggests, we could even see these roles afforded a hitherto-unheard-of level of respect, and remuneration.

 

Plus, there will be a slew of new positions around programming, maintaining and designing the machines. It’s the last of these that may prove the most fertile for humans. AIs inherit their biases from their creators, which means philosophers focused on issues like ethics – for example – might suddenly find themselves the most employable they’ve ever been.