You’ve heard this before, machines are and will continue to replace human workers… but how worried should you actually be?
From my calculations… pretty worried.
Everyday human beings make thousands of decisions on a conscious and subliminal level. These decisions are dictated by our paradigms of the world, our emotions, and our sense of purpose. These things are what we believe make us human, they are the inputs that our brain processes in making an output, which we call a decision. Each decision allows our brain to grow, learn, and determine if its inputs need to be changed. In a similar way, artificially intelligent technologies take in a set of inputs, calculate an output or decision, and learn from the successes or failures of that decision. The inputs these technologies consider are not just simple rows and columns in a spreadsheet, but rather human speech, action, and even visual identification. Modern machines can already hear, taste, smell, see, and touch. These machines have mastered the human senses and have done so in a matter of decades, a process which took our natural evolution millions of years.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
AI, as defined by less scientific communities, is broken into two different segments, weak and strong AI. Weak AI is largely what makes up the breaking stories in the nightly news of workers replaced by machines. These systems can learn and may even program parts of themselves, but they are limited to a set few of predetermined tasks. These systems are the chatbots replacing customer service workers, Siri on the iPhone or even Amazon’s Alexa home assistant. Strong AI has a much greater impact on the world as a whole, especially in the way that life is defined. Strong AI is a system that has brought biological neural networks to fruition. These systems will one day be able to replicate human emotion, purpose, and will redefine the very nature of human existence.
The future is here and so are its consequences. AI technology has emerged as a diverse tool in a multitude of different industries. These industries are predominately dominated by human labor that involves some type of physical work or consists of a compilation of mundane and automatable processes. For example, transportation jobs are at extreme risk of automation, reaching up to a 90% risk of automation. There are roughly 20 million jobs in the US that are within the transportation industry (BTS). The transportation industry is truly one of the greatest aggregators of quantitative data, a key component of feeding AI systems and a major reason for its high risk of automation. Big data allows AI systems to run predictive analytics with a high confidence interval. This big data is used along with sophisticated sensory technologies: lidar, GPS, radar, mapping, and others to create the necessary inputs for autonomy. Autonomy in transportation stands for the automation of different driving processes from turning on the car to switching lanes and ultimately, to drive itself. The millions of workers who stand risk of automation are virtually unprotected from this future shock, and they’re not alone.
High Earning Jobs
A higher education often means a higher earning job and an increase in job security. Although AI will affect lower earners on a much faster and even swifter scale, the ranks of some of the most coveted jobs of human beings may be at risk. AI machines have extremely intricate natural language processing systems that allow it to read but also to interpret without bias. This coupled with the ability to deep mine data threatens high earning jobs like research doctors, lawyers, accountants, and even some musicians. During a legal case, lawyers and often teams of paralegals have to read through thousands of pages of cases and files. The reality, however, is that this due diligence is the perfect fit for an AI system. A London based firm named Invoke Capital along with a handful of others have already started to adopt these AI systems. They can read thousands of pages and pull out useful information for the case, even without telling it exactly what to look for.
The Future of AI
“By 2021 a disruptive tidal wave will begin. Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services” (CNBC, Schulze)
In just a matter of a decade, AI will have emerged as the leading technological stimulant of the economy. It will have infiltrated the ranks of jobs from the line worker to the executive across all sectors. The roads will be efficient with self-driving cars, our schedules will be made everyday by an AI bot, our work will be enabled by AI-driven systems that can hypothesize and test, and we will be left with the creative work. The ranks of certain occupations will be slimmed while the actual work put in by an employee will be much more valuable than many of the mundane tasks our workforce does today.
The most important concerns of AI that are less related to economics and more to the fate of humanity cannot go unmentioned. The possibility that strong AI will be plausible in 10 years from now is unclear, but in 50, it seems inevitable. With that being said, a truly intelligent machine that relies on the same neural network processes we do to function will likely have some form of a conscious. In some way the machine may know that it exists and that it has choice. What this new gained conscious will mean for a world completely reliant on technology is unsettling. When this occurs, humanity’s definitions of what life really is will have to be reevaluated. Building an intelligent system that is potentially smarter than any human being will fundamentally alter the fabric of what it means to be human and to be alive.
Worried your job will be replaced? Click this to see your job’s risk of automation.
Let me know your thoughts, questions or concerns in the comments below!