Anything you do AI can do better?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) rebelling and taking over the world is a popular premise for many a movie including some recent examples like the Terminator movie series, i-Robot and Avengers: Age of Ultron. While these movies tend to highlight the potential threat that AI can have to our physical freedoms, the mainstream media is increasingly drawing attention to the threat on our working lives, “will my job be replaced by a robot?” The more troubling question from a societal point of view to me is “If an AI can do my job better, what role is left for me?”
What jobs may be affected?
A recent report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) predicts that up to 40% of the Australian workforce “face the high probability of being replaced by computers in the next 10 to 15 years.” An Oxford University study had the number of current US jobs at risk of computerisation even higher at 47%. While it is widely held that specific tasks following well defined procedures are susceptible to this, advances in AI and current trends are emerging that suggest the effects will be beyond those initially imagined. In fact, it would seem fair to say that the legal and medical professions have a target on their back already. While some early industries to undergo change were due to their low level easily replicated procedures, the knowledge based professions that have traditionally had higher levels of education, salary and esteem may be next. The advances in AI and natural language chatbots are bridging the gap between what the top legal and medical minds can uncover and their machine counterparts. One can envision that in the near future that what could be done averagely by 100 doctors or lawyers can be done brilliantly by one supercomputer with possibly the oversight of a fleshy human to sign off the conclusions.
A recent application of this technology put to work includes the public-private partnership headed by US VP Joe Biden dubbed the “Cancer Moonshot.” Using IBM’s Watson they hope to be able to treat a great deal more patients than at present, “an almost 30-fold increase from the number that is currently using those therapies today” These are some of the first steps in a democratisation of traditionally very expensive services.
It’s going to happen, is that a bad thing?
I suspect the only thing holding back progress in the coming 10 years will ironically be the legal structure that protects these professions. While it will be necessary to temper progress with some caution, society as a whole will undergo change as these once revered professions will be more capably performed by machines. This trend is likely to play out repeatedly across society. One question worth pondering, “When I am sick, would I prefer an AI doctor that can access all records of similar illnesses and the efficacy of their treatments and make a recommendation, or would I prefer my local doctor to make an educated guess based upon what they have personally experienced and can recall on any given day?” Once we gain some trust in these systems I know what I would choose. For the Tesla autopilot feature Elon Musk has set a lofty benchmark of “10 times safer than the US vehicle average” before they will remove the beta label, if that kind of restraint is displayed across the board confidence will be built quickly. The intermediate step of AI assisted human interactions will bring the benefits to market even faster and more safely.
The bright side
Emerging AI will enable business to capture and retain their Institutional knowledge enabling employees to focus on customer engagement and providing intimate and meaningful interactions, rather than merely being a repository for company facts and product descriptions. This presents both an opportunity for business to provide a better customer experience and for workers to have more engagement and hopefully job satisfaction.
While we as a business and individuals should embrace the benefits and be open to technology, society should keep in mind the velocity of change to ensure that the benefits outweigh the consequences. The interest of the media in this topic is merely the greater public becoming aware and showing concern for what will be one of the most important challenges and opportunities of the coming decades.
In which industry does AI present the biggest opportunity? Will this enhance, change or destroy the opportunities for employment?
Reach out to me if you want to further discuss these ideas or if you think there is an opportunity to bring some of this technology to life in your business.