If Arnie’s Terminator walked into a Canary Wharf bar late at night and demanded the job of a back office worker there would be reason to panic.
The use of the word robot rather than software creates a bad guy, but software has been replacing people for a long time.
There is a trend at present for IT companies to carry out research about people’s fears of robots taking their jobs.
For example here are a few recent articles:
AI and robots will ‘create political instability’ until humans find new occupations
Thousands of Deutsche Bank employees will be replaced by robots
Workers at least mentally prepared for robots to take over some of their work
Brexit could mean more robots doing jobs in UK businesses
AI poses no threat to IT careers
Automation ‘will put 28% of young workers’ jobs at risk’
This is just a few examples from Computer Weekly but I could list hundreds. These articles make for good headlines. Who wouldn’t want to find out more if the CEO at Deutsche bank says “a large number of people” at the bank will be replaced by robots?
The image of a terminator-like robot sitting at your desk while you look for a new career stokes fear, but it is just software and it is not as if software hasn’t been replacing people for many years.
It’s great that people start thinking about the roles of the future to help prepare young people for it. Perhaps we should be looking closer at the skills people are going to need to get the most out of these robots
This brings me on to the latest press release I received. This comes from IT and BPO services firm Genpact. It says that only 10% of people think that AI threatens their current jobs. But about 60% fear AI’s impact on their children’s and future generations’ career opportunities, and almost all the people interviewed (90%) said younger generations need new skills to succeed as AI becomes more prevalent.
When it comes to preparing humans for the future the Genpact research said: “When considering new skills people think they will need, and where they will get them, few survey respondents look to advanced degrees. They cite relevant primary and secondary education in subjects that will prepare younger generations for a future AI-focused workplace as more important than higher education. In addition, almost half (45 percent) of those surveyed believe future generations will need more on-the-job training via human-machine interactions.
Half of all respondents said the ability to adapt to change as the top quality necessary to succeed in an environment with an increasing AI presence. Most people valued critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity more than technical skills like coding, statistics, and math. Here is the full report if you want to have a look.
But AI is being developed and improved so fast that who knows what is around the corner. While the current chatbots might not be a huge threat, what follows could be.
I recently interviewed Chetan Dube who is CEO at AI software maker IPSoft. We were discussing IPSoft’s latest product launched which you can read about here.
He was explaining to me that IPSoft’s cognitive agent, known as Amelia, is more than a Chabot.
He referred me to some serious research about the capabilities of cognitive agents. He talked about the IQ levels of humans compared to cognitive agents (chatbots). He said 18 year olds have an average IQ of 97, for an average 12 year old it is 84, and a six year olds are 55.2 on average. He said the smartest chatbot in the market is from Google and its equivalent IQ is 47.1, Siri meanwhile is 21,2. “How do you expect to get good customer service from a five year old? That is the fundemental issue today. Chatbots are great for telling the weather and other administrative secretarial tasks which is only a small percent of a company’s outlay.” He said in contrast 35% of a businesses outlay comes from knowledge workers. So mayde fears are somewhat overblown.
But there are huge challenges – rapid technological advancement means less human resources are required yet the world population keeps expanding.
The pace of technological advancement is what makes the current period so challenging, according to Author Douglas Coupland, who wrote the novel Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture, which tells the stories of a group of people born between the early 1960s and early 1980s.
I interviewed him in March at an IT event, and he told there was likely to be a period of uncertainty caused by the pace of change.
“People always say, ‘Don’t worry, we will invent new job categories’, and in the past this has been more or less the case. But we are dealing with algorithmic technologies that have no historical or ontological precedence,” he said.
“We are at this hyper-accelerated pace now. We are going to lose jobs faster than we create them, and during that different zone it is going to be very politically unstable. I hope governments have a plan B.”
There have also been problems highlighted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF’s Global Risks 2017 report included the fact that, as a result of AI and other disruptive technologies, long-term jobs were giving way to self-employment in the “gig” economy, leaving individuals to shoulder more responsibility for the costs of unemployment, sickness and old age.
Unless there is a concerted effort from governments and the private sector, this will put pressure on economies and may lead to social unrest, said Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer of Zurich Insurance Group. “Without proper governance and reskilling of workers, technology will eliminate jobs faster than it creates them,” she said. “Governments can no longer provide historic levels of social protection, and an anti-establishment narrative has gained traction, with new political leaders blaming globalisation for society’s challenges.”