By Devin Morrissey
There’s a lot of anxiety out there about automation based on AI making professions obsolete. The fears range from noting specific examples, such as automated trucks and truck drivers, to speculation that entire industries will start mass layoffs and replace people with AI tech.
The argument is often, “this time, automation is different.” That in the past, when machines made work easier, they created more new jobs to offset the loss of old ones. However, much of the anxiety is caused by the idea that this time, AI-based automation won’t create enough new jobs to offset that loss.
It’s absolutely true that, as we continue to explore the possibilities of AI, we are going to have to wrestle with ethical conundrums about where people and technology intersect.
Fear comes along with any dramatic change, and while it’s good to talk about contingencies and ethical limits on technology, it’s unlikely that mass layoffs and human obsolescence are in the near future.
AI Is Solving New Problems, but Humans Are Still Necessary
Many of the most important uses for AI are directly related to new problems created by the development of digital industries. Big data is one example of this relationship. As our technology improved, our ability to generate new kinds of data in much larger amounts outpaced our ability to analyze it effectively. From the University of Alabama and Birmingham, to be specific: “Essentially, AI fills in the gaps between human ability and big data. This frees up time for IT professionals to focus on matters that need attention the most and relieves them of the burden of real-time decisions or time-consuming troubleshooting.”
In fact, AI is also being used in recruitment to help narrow down large pools of applicants to the best candidates, which enables recruiters to spend less time sifting through resumes and more focusing on the absolute best match for the position. Just like replacing horses with tractors on the farm, AI is enabling people in many professions to be more efficient and productive. The time spent sifting through resumes makes recruiters better at their jobs — it doesn’t make their jobs obsolete.
This isn’t to say that displacement won’t occur. It’s widely accepted that AI has the potential to cause obsolescence of jobs in some sectors. Forbes contributor Bernard Marr wrote in 2017 that a majority of companies surveyed about their implementation of AI reported an increase in hiring, and many of those also reported that there has not been a reduction in jobs due to AI.
In fact, AI implementation tends to create jobs related to data specialization, including maintenance, implementation, analysis, training and interpretation with regards to those systems.
AI may lead to a workforce that looks a lot different, and it continues to change as we discover new uses for the technology. But, luckily, it’s not looking as different from other major technological revolutions as people fear.
A lot of top minds in tech are doomsaying about AI, and others are much more optimistic. Some industries will certainly be hit harder than others, and that may require major political changes and ethical discussions. Still, the future may well be optimistic, and AI may be set to create many more jobs than it eliminates.
Bio: Devin Morrissey prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zigzag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more on Twitter: @devmorrissey.
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