At the “AI and the Future of Work” summit at MIT in November of 2017, MIT President L. Rafael Reif echoed the fears of many working Americans when he said that “72% of of Americans say they feel worried about a future [in which] robots and computers can do many human jobs. It’s clear to almost everyone that deep change is happening. For most people it’s not clear how to respond.”
The event also featured speakers such as Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt who believes that AI will make workers more productive, give us personal assistants, leading to more productive and happier lives.
“The presumption is that existing jobs are lost, and you can’t imagine the jobs that are created,” said Schmidt. “[But] AI is replacing tasks. There is a surplus of jobs and not enough people to fill them.”
But not everyone is so optimistic. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Co the rise of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence could impact tens of millions of jobs across the globe in the near future.
“Major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts out of agriculture and manufacturing,” the report read. “Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines.”
McKinsey & Co have previously suggested that about half the jobs globally could theoretically be automated with the demonstrated technologies we have today. However, they say that very few occupations—less than 5 percent—consist of activities that can be fully automated. I wonder how long that will hold true?
They go onto say that in about 60% of occupations, at least one-third of the activities could be automated, implying massive changes in many workplaces and for the workers.
But the report does agree with Eric Schmidt to some degree in that the automation revolution will likely create new occupations that do not currently exist, as technologies of the past have done. No one has any idea what these occupations might be, and it does make for comforting rhetoric to remind ourselves that the world of work didn’t end with the invention of the steam engine or the personal computer.
A recent survey (22 August – 19 September 2017) commissioned by software and services company Tieto was conducted by market research company YouGov with over 3,000 men and women in Sweden, Finland and Norway. The participants were asked questions about Artificial Intelligence and its impact on society. The results show that 79% believe that AI and robots will to some extent make it harder to get jobs in the future, but only 10% see it as a high probability that an AI will replace their current job. 39% believe their job won´t be affected at all.
“The awareness and understanding about AI is rather low amongst the general public. Few realise that it is already being introduced broadly in various areas, with data-driven decision-making increasingly supplementing our human skills and competences. At the same time, the discussion around AI has focused too much on jobs disappearing, when in fact we should also emphasize the new types of roles and tasks emerging as a result. AI brings a multitude of abilities and needs for new expertise to all industries”, says Ari Järvelä, Head of Data-driven Businesses, Tieto.
According to the survey, 71% of people in the Nordics believe that new technology, driven by AI, will help make their everyday life easier – but at the same time, 80% are to different degrees worried about the consequences on society.
The sector which people believe will be impacted the most by AI within the next decade is industry and manufacturing. Customer support, postal and delivery services, accounting and banking services are other areas expected to undergo similar development. Healthcare, however, is not believed to be affected to the same extent – only one in seven people, 16 percent, believe that AI will have a substantial impact on the area. This contradicts the view of many experts who predict healthcare to be one of the fastest evolving sectors with the help of AI.
“It is clear that industries that have been early in adopting various forms of automation are also expected to undergo the biggest change with AI. However, healthcare is an area where this technology will play a vital role, improving both cost-efficiency and quality of care. There are many ongoing projects in which AI can analyse health data and suggest preventive measures at both individual and societal level. Going forward, the benefits of the new technology will become all the more evident for citizens – this is just the beginning”, says Ari Järvelä.
The results further show that AI is viewed as a disrupting force regarding many types of roles and tasks. The list of roles that people think could be done better by AI includes IT support, accountants, check-out staff, bus and taxi drivers. Occupations where people believe an AI would do a worse job, are those traditionally associated with close everyday human interaction, such as teachers and doctors.
Excerpts from the survey:
Q. Which of the following roles do you think would do a better job if they were completely or partially replaced by an AI/robot in their professional practice?
Percentage that answered “would do a better job” or “would do a much better job”:
Check-out staff 27%
Bus/taxi drivers 23%
Officials in municipalities 23%
My boss 14%
Sports commentators 12%
So it seems we have some idea of existing jobs that may or may not be on the way out. But what of new jobs? Is there anything happening now that can help predict where the new work is going to reside?
According to research from Glassdoor Economic Research, a website that analyzes the labor market. there are, unsurprisingly, jobs like AI software engineers, data scientists, and project managers that are hot job prospects.
Among the not-so-technical jobs cited by Glassdoor are copywriters to write the dialogue for bots and other conversational interfaces. Lawyers who specialize in subsets of intellectual property, as well as journalists covering AI, are also among the jobs to be aiming for.
The companies doing most of the hiring, again unsurprisingly, are mostly tech companies: Amazon, Nvidia, Microsoft, and IBM take the top four spots in Glassdoor’s analysis, though Wells Fargo also made the list.
Another report on the future of AI-related jobs, funded by IT company Cognizant, proposes 21 jobs for the future in their aptly named PDF “21 Jobs of the Future – A guide to getting – and staying – employed over the next 10 years.”
Here are the 21 jobs of the future according to Cognizant (with a few descriptive words taken from the report):
- Data Detective: Uncovering secrets in big data.
- Bring Your Own IT Facilitator: Business IT professional who can fuse shadow-IT operations with digital workplace strategies.
- Ethical Sourcing Officer: Someone who ensures a company’s indirect expenditure is allocated according to the standards set by the ethics board.
- Artificial Intelligence Business Development Manager: Someone who can define, develop and deploy effective and targeted programs to accelerate broad-based sales and business development activities.
- Master of Edge Computing: Someone who will be responsible for creating, maintaining and protecting the edge computing environment and in particular design and develop the hardware and software, overhaul the existing network infrastructure for reliability, efficiency and latency, and balance load-shifting across the network and interconnecting networks.
- Walker/Talker: Someone who can be with, listen, walk and talk with clients. A hired companion.
- Fitness Commitment Counselor: Coaching and counseling person with nursing, counseling or fitness coaching credentials.
- AI-Assisted Healthcare Technician: A nurse to AI driven healthcare technology.
- Cyber City Analyst: Someone who will ensure the functionality and security of the digital systems and processes that make a modern city work.
- Genomic Portfolio Director: Sales, marketing, and business leadership for someone with academics and experience in genomics, molecular biology and business.
- Man–Machine Teaming Manager: Someone who can identify tasks, processes, sytems and experiences so that man and machine can work better together in an industry or workplace.
- Financial Wellness Coach: A financial advisor.
- Digital Tailor: Someone who will work with customers in their home or at their place of work to ensure clothing items ordered online fit perfectly when delivered.
- Chief Trust Officer: A PR person who can maintain a companies positive public image.
- Quantum Machine Learning Analyst: Developing quantum machine learning.
- Virtual Store Sherpa: Someone who can guide customers to exactly what they want online.
- Personal Data Broker: Where personal data is a tradable commodity, a personal data broker will monitor and trade in all forms of personal data that a client creates from his/her micro data feeds, streaming preferences to platform data.
- Personal Memory Curator: Someone who creates and delivers virtual environments for aging customers to experience.
- Augmented Reality Journey Builder: As an AR journey builder, you will collaborate with talented engineering leads and technical artists to create the essential elements for customers to move through an augmented reality experience of place, space and time. This includes the setting, mood, historical time, information, tone, characters and suggested things or experiences to buy, as well as the application of clients’ favorite games, sports teams, music and cinematic style.
- Highway Controller: An air traffic controller and highway policeman rolled into one to manage both drones and autonomous vehicles.
- Genetic Diversity Officer: A genetic diversity officer facilitates the profitability and productivity of the organization while fostering an environment of genetic inclusion. They operate within legislative guidelines and mandates regarding the genetically enhanced workforce, constructing a company wide genetic equality policy and encouraging management to adhere to and implement said policy within their business units. They also work with in-house and outsourced genetic pathologists to ensure that all members of staff are categorized correctly and fairly.
The authors of this very creative and imaginative list conclude with an excerpt from their book What to Do When Machines Do Everything, which was published in 2017:
The consensus among the majority of the studies … posit[s] a range from around 5% to 15% of jobs being automated away over the coming 10 to 15 years. Based on our analysis, we believe that the mid-point of this range, about 12%, is the most likely scenario. This level of job dislocation from AI, of course, is still significant. 12% is the equivalent of around 19 million jobs in the United States. If one of those jobs is yours, life will undoubtedly be very tough. However, what’s often overlooked in examining the big picture of employment levels is the growth of new jobs. We believe that there will be almost 21 million new jobs, about 13% of the current U.S. labor force, directly created as a result of the growth of the new machine. In case these numbers – 19 million jobs disappearing and 21 million jobs being created – sound implausible, keep in mind, as a point of reference, that since 2010, during the years of the post-Great Recession recovery, 15 million private sector jobs have been created in the United States.
Our assumption is that in the industrialized world, for nations that embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, unemployment rates by 2025 will be roughly what they are today. This relatively small expected change – plus or minus – in the net unemployment rate will, however, mask huge changes in what work we do and how we do it. Within the overall labor force, there will be massive job transitions (often creating skills mismatches).
Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring, What to Do When Machines Do Everything, Wiley, 2017, https://www.amazon.com/What-When-Machines-Everything-Algorithms/dp/111927866X.