Artificial Intelligence, China and Employment

Artificial Intelligence has come to the world to stay. Although there are optimistic and, on the other hand, catastrophic discourses about Artificial Intelligence, what the evidence seems to make very clear is that the implications and transformations that the implementation of this new technological form will entail will be enormous. Artificial Intelligence has come to change all sectors of the industry, from finance to the production chain. It is almost impossible to know with certainty the consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution since it involves too many disruptive factors that make it difficult to establish causal correlations with a certain degree of accuracy. The debate on the automation of employment through robotization is one of the most exciting topics in the development of Artificial Intelligence. The paradigm of the world without human work seems distant, but, without a doubt, it is a beautiful horizon to which humanity must walk, always with care and with group thinking.

As in all revolutions in history, there will be winners and losers after these transformations. Significant companies can be damaged in this transformative process or even doomed to death. China and the USA seem to be taking the lead in this race to develop Artificial Intelligence. Although the USA maintains a technological potential superior to that of the Asian country, all the data reveal that by the end of this decade, China will have surpassed the development of Artificial Intelligence to the USA, with all the political and economic consequences this entails.

Technologies such as big data have transformed the way we live since they have established new behaviors and new social dynamics with consequences attached to them. Among them, we can refer to the dependence that many people develop on smartphones, the possibility of making online purchases or instant communications with anyone in the world, with their corresponding advertising and marketing practices.

One of the first things to be presented is the fact that Artificial Intelligence cannot be seen in a unique way, since it is formed as a conglomerate of several branches of studies and development, among which the following stand out voice recognition and imaging, machine learning, deep learning, robotics, computer vision, among others. For this reason, it must be understood that Artificial Intelligence can have different modalities and is inscribed in a technological reality of greater complexity. Likewise, a machine, a commercial product, or software can be made up of more than one of the aforementioned Artificial Intelligence modalities.

All this development of Artificial Intelligence has had a significant influence on daily life. At present, it has come to host innovations, such as creating robots with human movements to develop the same tasks that a human performs. However, one of the scariest innovations is the mechanization of thinking in machines: to give computers the ability to produce responses that, until now, only a human being can generate, which also becomes a concern since giving the computer all the ability to be a person, through Artificial Intelligence, it would be the “last great mistake of humanity since there would be no limits for Artificial Intelligence and there would be no law of physics that could stop it because its calculations would be even more complex than ours” (Hawking, 2016).

Stephen Hawking feared that it would be that same creation that controls the markets and even its creator in the not too distant future. In one of his articles concerning new technologies, Nicholas Carr warns that all these dynamics mentioned by Hawking are much closer to being implemented than we can imagine. He comments that: “Before, it was easy for me to immerse myself in a book or a long article. Nowadays, time is online, browsing, searching as if someone or something was playing in our brain” (Carr, 2017, p. 1). His expression refers to another possible affectation of Artificial Intelligence, consisting in that it is not we who are manipulating everything. Still, Artificial Intelligence is occupying our senses, so much so that it has led us to change some dynamics of action for others.

On the other hand, the Artificial Intelligence era will generate significant employment, like other previous technological revolutions. However, it is unknown what those jobs will look like or when they will start to emerge. The three previous Industrial Revolutions have had as a common denominator this reductionist role of human labor. However, this fourth Industrial Revolution seems to have the potential to reduce human labor to near elimination. A perfect example of that is Spread, a sustainable lettuce producer, which has managed to develop the first greenhouse in Japan, capable of cultivating different crops 100% automatically. (Perez García, 2017)

This expectation of the complete automation of work brings a new paradigm of social configuration and the need to rethink our society. If the benefits created by automated work are given to a private person or entity, economic inequalities will worsen terribly. Thus arises the need to think of a social model that allows the redistribution of wealth created by automated work for a more sustainable political model. Society is in these moments in the preambles of a part of history in which the world will change enormously, for better or worse.

The future regarding the impact of Artificial Intelligence in the world of employment seems to be still uncertain. What is clear is the present: automation as a compliment that enhances and strengthens human work. Thus, a kind of convergence arises between Artificial Intelligence systems, robots, and human workers or the new “digital workers”. The central idea is to create a “workforce with augmented intelligence”, where Artificial Intelligence raises the limits of traditional capabilities.

Meanwhile, political leaders sometimes feel as lost as citizens themselves in a sea of new acronyms, technologies, and companies. A technological naivety that is difficult to understand at this point in the 21st century. The enormous contrast between the intensity of the change, its depth and global nature, and the little or no perception of it is very striking. But what we must bear in mind, in addition to committing ourselves to the victims, is the need to anticipate and foresee solutions. We must all prepare for the impact Artificial Intelligence will have on work and begin to be aware of the need to train, recycle, and reinvent ourselves in the new skills demanded in a job market, for which no one had prepared or warned us.

The consequences of the advance of automation are favorable for the economy since more production is produced more quickly. The Government and the private sector have to work together to specify measures that allow a balance between technological innovation and the adaptation of workers to these new jobs.

13 comments

  1. While I think AI within the workforce makes sense in a lot of ways, I do think employers run risks by relying on it too much. Within my team at work there has been a lot of focus on automating processes rather than increasing human headcount. While this sounds good on paper, it’s results haven’t been great so far. For one it took over a year for the internal political back and forth about what to approve and what not to approve. While that’s going on the volume of work my team had to handle continued to go up. Now after releasing some automation tools we have found errors in the decision making. Meanwhile our team has experienced burnout with people leaving for new jobs which has further impacted the team’s output. Moral of the story here is that automation is not everything.

    1. Such a bad story :(
      Apart from automation, AI can bring us optimization, and I think that should be one of our main goals as humankind ( as long as we are not a multi-planetary species)

  2. There have been many articles/discussions on the future of work due to the pandemic and the associated acceleration of trends. I share your concerns around AI, and more specifically, the rapid pace of change that will occur. As you mentioned in your blog post, AI could benefit the few while leaving others behind. What levers/mechanisms could be used to avoid that? Legislation, oversight, or something else we have not thought of yet?

    1. I don’t have an answer to that question. I hope we find one as soon as possible…

  3. You pose valid points, Albert! Another argument I rarely hear but believe is significant is the impact of future generations if we do/do not invest in artificial intelligence. While I understand the great depths and fears of changing the workforce, is it not more ethical to create a world where humans have less to do? Is it not our continued responsibility to better the human experience and ease our stresses like those before us did when accepting farming technology and computers?

    1. hahahah thanks Bianca ;)
      You just took the words out of my mouth.

  4. We’ll be covering this topic this week in class! Blog posts will be improved with some images to add character.

    1. Albert Salgueda Martos · · Reply

      Great! I am really looking forward this class ;)

    2. Can’t wait 😝

  5. Interesting read! i was surprised to hear about some of the opinions that we are closer than we think to AI solutions fully taking over in some sectors. For perspective, this interesting WSJ piece tells a story of Facebook only being able to catch 2% of the hate speech on it’s platform, despite having best in class models and talent: https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-ai-enforce-rules-engineers-doubtful-artificial-intelligence-11634338184

    Likewise, in thinking of AI applicability and effect on employment, our company actually has a product that uses AI to observe how processes get done in organizations and identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Sometimes you can use robotics to correct those things, but most of the time it’s using the AI to make human work better – so that you can coach on the right way to complete a process.

    1. As you said, I think we are still far away from a fully automated future. Nevertheless, it is great to use AI to improve/boost the human experience.

  6. Unfortunately, I think the trends around AI point to the eventual adoption of UBI as a way to quell the outmoded and unemployed. I think China will appear to be ahead of the US due to its cultural proclivities for central control and hive mindedness which will lead to wider adoption of it. However, I still don’t think that the US will fall behind from an innovation aspect since it still maintains the best macroeconomic factors to make this trend sustainable.

  7. Certainly a concerning trend, but I think its a stretch to think we can measure the AI development of China vs. USA or any countries for that matter. In my opinion the largest breakthroughs and most applicable uses of AI will come via private industry and not be tied to a single government, but rather span the global economy. Furthermore, there is wide breadth of application in this space from something as simple and harmless as processing a claim without involving Customer Service rep, to some of the more impactful examples you listed above.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: