Research warns that artificial intelligence could leave millions unemployed. But there will be plenty of opportunity for people to work side by side with the autobots of tomorrow.
Millions of Americans are fearful that robots will take their jobs.
And rightly so, say some recent studies. A 2017 study from Forrester Research projected that 25 million jobs will be axed from the US workforce over the next decade because of automation, but only 15 million jobs will be created in their place. Another widely-cited 2013 study from Oxford University found that as much as 47% of the US workforce could be at risk of losing their jobs to automation within the next 20 years, particularly those workers in sectors like transportation, logistics, and commercial retail.
“I always tell my students that, regardless of what field they’re going into, skills around data and computing are the new math. It’s almost like if you don’t know how to do addition and multiplication right now,” said Vasant Dhar, a professor and data scientist at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Other research takes a more optimistic view: A report out this week from professional services firm Accenture and the World Economic Forum projects that as few as 16% of jobs “are at risk of displacement… after accounting for potential job gains that would arise from the same trends.”
“There will obviously be some displacement, but I think, net-net, these technologies really allow for the expansion of human consciousness and the expansion of jobs,” said Brian Uzzi, a professor at the Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering. “It shouldn’t be thought of as machines substituting for jobs, but it’s going to be about job growth in current areas.”
Whatever the numbers ultimately turn out to be, they’re likely to worry people with no STEM or engineering backgrounds to speak of — the actors, writers, English and psychology majors of the world. The good news though: Even if you don’t have a tech background, automation may help you at work.
Indeed, Uzzi and other experts believe that the future for such workers will revolve around using AI to enhance their efficiency and productivity, rather than regarding it as a job-taking threat. These experts see the selling point of human labor as residing in humans’ trademark creativity, sympathy, and intuition — qualities not even the most advanced of automatons can effectively replicate.
LivePerson is one tech firm that’s proving that people with non-STEM backgrounds can find work in this changing environment. The New York-based company, which creates chatbots for clients in sectors like hospitality or telecommunications, employs a battalion of trained actors and linguists to write the content that customers interact with digitally.
One of those writers is Dan Clegg, 35, an actor who holds a bachelor’s degree English literature and studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Ca. Another is the company’s head of conversational strategy, Rurik Bradbury, 41, a graduate of Cambridge University in the UK who studied modern and medieval languages.
Bradbury and his team develop the chatbots’ voices and written content — “very much a different job,” he explained, than what their coworkers on the programming side do. He likened his company’s left brain/right brain structure, in which writers and engineers work side by side, to using Microsoft Word: “It’s a different job to write the words into the word processor than to build the code into the word processor [and] decide where the buttons go.”
Psychology is yet another industry already benefiting from AI, Uzzi said, pointing out emerging technologies that diagnose patients’ mental health challenges and aid licensed psychologists in developing treatment plans for them more expeditiously and effectively.
“The entire legal profession is another,” Uzzi added. Automated programs that can screen workers’ emails before they send them can help companies avoid committing potentially costly compliance errors. Journalists, for their part, can improve their reporting using software that can pick up on signs of subtle biases which appear in their writing, that editors might not spot. And screenwriters now can run their scripts through programs which can assess if their scripts could make viable commercial successes at the box office, before sending them off to human reviewers to edit in-depth.
These are a few of the examples that leave experts feeling optimistic that machines won’t decimate the human workforce within the next generation.
“If you think of the kinds of opportunities that these new capabilities will lead to, it’s almost like the sky’s the limit,” Dhar concluded. “If you’re a writer and suddenly you have the ability to query the entire world … and have the computer come back and give you an intelligent answer — the scope of productivity is just huge.”
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