There is mounting concern over how artificial intelligence will influence the future of work, with some experts predicting that AI technology could displace up to 30 percent of workers around the world by 2030. This statistic raises worrying questions about class, poverty, and education: it seems clear that less educated workers could lose their jobs due to the automation of low-level tasks, while more skilled professions remain safe. Over the past few decades we’ve already seen switchboard assistants, lift operators, cashiers and even factory workers replaced by technology, so what does the future look like in the world of work?
New smart machines have the potential to replace our minds and move freely about the world, but aren’t jobs reconfiguring over time to account for that automation? For instance, thirty years ago, there was no such thing as an SEO consultant or a web designer, but technology has made those careers possible, as with millions of other tech-related jobs. Let’s take a look at what we know already, and try to estimate what the future of work in a technology-driven era actually looks like.
AI Is Changing Recruitment
Recruitment is one of the toughest issues faced by businesses today. Business leaders know that finding the right talent is integral to success, but hiring the wrong person is expensive, and finding that perfect fit is more challenging than it first appears. This is where artificial intelligence comes in. With the ever-increasing data about job candidates and employee productivity, some innovative AI companies are helping to reduce this operational burden.
One way in which AI companies help the recruitment process is through the automation of low-level tasks, such as scheduling interviews. Some software even tackles the administrative nightmare of sifting through resumes to find and contact high-ranking applicants; other AI programs can help assess potential candidates through auto-generated coding challenged, though of course, this is only applicable to certain job roles. Some companies even appoint digital assistants as a first point of contact for applicants, cutting some manual tasks out of the process.
This brings issues of online reputation to the forefront, as there will be nowhere for candidates with any kind of negative press or even an inflammatory Facebook status to hide. All this data means it’s easy for people (and machines) to dismiss candidates based on assumptions, or in fact, information, about who they are. This is where reputation management services (run by humans, it seems fair to assume) will come into their own, giving some of the control back to people as to what their employers can see online.
Although AI is far from being able to make a fully autonomous decision about who a company should hire, the increasing number of AI startups and established companies are proving just how AI can make recruitment smarter.
Many Jobs Won’t Be Replaced by Machines
The concern about robots stealing jobs is nothing new. In 16th century England, Queen Elizabeth prohibited the invention of a device designed to make materials for clothing, fearing that it would cause affected workers to become “beggars.” What can we learn from this? That throughout history, the power of technology has been overestimated without evidence to backup grandiose predictions; that the emergence of AI will be gradual, like all digital developments, not sudden and devastating.
Despite the hype, artificial intelligence does have its limits. For instance, although companies like Google and Facebook are reported to be using AI to limit and organize content, it’s important to bear in mind that machines aren’t capable of understanding cultural, social or ethical norms.
What’s more, there are several jobs that can’t be easily replaced by machines. Think about the jobs of healthcare providers, accountants, educators and business managers – it’s difficult to imagine these roles being filled by robots. Many jobs require human workers to perform an array of different, non-repetitive duties and react to unexpected situations; some rely on human motor skills. Other jobs require human interaction and social skills, such as caring, hospice and childcare roles.
AI Will Make Us More Human, Not Less
Artificial intelligence is getting smarter at automating actions previously undertaken by humans. While AI operates on repetition, it’s not just mechanical tasks like assembling parts in a factory, but complex roles that are now being taken on by machines. It paints a bleak picture at first, but not when you consider how human beings have responded throughout history to our evolution. What do humans do when old jobs disappear, and new ones crop up to take their place, or when the entire landscape of life changes? We evolve, we adapt, and we live to tell the tale. We survive to work in yet another century.
Despite how smart AI is becoming, it still can’t recreate jobs that require empathy, critical thinking, leadership or artistic impression, which is why it’s difficult to imagine entire professions being automated away. So, free from the shackles of time-consuming manual tasks, does this mean we will have more time for creativity and other decidedly “human” pursuits? Quite possibly. Automation will release humans from the need to perform specific tasks, just like the invention of the washing machine freed people up from hand-washing their clothes. Automation will take over non-creative, non-personal tasks; its whole purpose is to assist humans, not render them obsolete.
Automation Will Make Us Better At Work and Play
Imagine how much better you’d be at your job (and how much more you’d enjoy it) if you didn’t have to spend time on repetitive tasks, such as invoicing, sending follow-up emails and building reports. Once all these tasks have been taken over by intelligent machines, humans are left with the emotional and creative aspects of a job, such as building relationships and coming up with creative solutions to client problems. By freeing you up from the mundane, everyday tasks that you dread, AI can help you focus on the potentially more enjoyable parts of your job – those things that make you arguably “more human.”
One potential side effect of AI is that so-called emotional skills will become more sought-after. Qualities like communication, intelligence, creativity and cognitive flexibility will be more respected and celebrated in the world of business, forcing us all to become more in tune with what makes us human. This will not only better us in our careers, but AI could also help us to redress the balance in our personal lives.
Right now, we’re on the tipping point between having to do manual jobs and having access to full automation, and as a result, we’re trying (and sometimes failing) to do it all. We’re burnt out and exhausted, but there is the reason to suggest that the near future can alleviate much of this stress. Imagine how much more time you could dedicate to your relationships if you didn’t have to worry about cleaning your dishes, or vacuuming the floor; if you could just go to work, do the necessary “human” aspects of your job and let machines take over the rest? Not only does automation stand to make us happier, but it could also make us more productive, better rested and higher functioning as a result.
Human Innovation Will Prevail
The only reason we have AI and automation in the first place is due to human innovation. The idea that robots are going to take our jobs fails to account for how smart humans are and assumes that we’re not capable of thinking up new industries and jobs. Consider what happened when industrialization killed the agricultural jobs that employed over half the population – people came up with new jobs and built new inventions. After the industrial revolution came airplanes, computers, highways, and entire industries surrounding entertainment, healthcare, and education. It’s hard to imagine something similar happening int eh future, but it will.
Humans are yet to reach their full potential, and we shouldn’t view AI and automation as threats – not when they can help us reach even higher.
It’s Not All Bad News
Despite the major job disruptions due to automation and AI, the emergence of this technology in the world of work will also bring about many positive changes. One recent study estimated that automation in the workforce could improve productivity and raise economic growth. It is also predicted that once AI enters the mainstream, there will be a rising demand for educators, creators, and performers.
Artificial intelligence can seem dystopian, and it’s easy to believe that robots will cut humans out of the workforce, especially when you’ve watched a few too many science fiction movies. However, the other side of the argument is perhaps more realistic: that the role of these machines is to assist humans, not replace them; that people and computers have been working in tandem for decades, and that the two ideas of artificially intelligent machines and humans aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather than robbing us of our jobs, AI could actually make us better at our jobs and even better at being human.