Self-checkout counters in your library or local convenience store, essay grading machines and plagiarism checkers are some examples of where we encounter Artificial Intelligence in our daily lives. Have you ever wondered how Facebook knows which person to tag in the photo you just uploaded? That’s AI. Or how Snapchat filters automatically adjust to your face? Also AI.
Should we be worried that it will take away our jobs? The answer to that is both yes and no, and the answer lies in the way the AI, as it stands today, operates.
AI is basically any technology that consumes hundreds of thousands of data points for a particular problem or a particular task, and then learns and adapts from that — it learns what output will be required in any specific case. We all have at one point or another faced the torment of listening to an automated customer service line whose responses are based on what it has learned from thousands of such calls.
While such automations have led to smoother customer experiences and tremendous cost savings for companies, the jobs behind such automations are lost. Essentially, AI will be successful in jobs and areas where a core part of the work is repetitive or where such work can be done faster with a computer. AI has reduced jobs in manufacturing where a machine can collect the inputs and churn out finished products. Warehouse work, self-driving cars and delivery via drones are a few other examples where the number of jobs is expected to decline more.
The pace of job losses and the timelines of drastic AI impact have not been as extreme as some experts had predicted. An example is in the case of ATMs. As James Bessen, a Boston University School of Law professor, has found that teller jobs in the United States actually increased since the early 2000s.
But where AI will not succeed (at least for now) is in jobs which require human inputs in previously unseen events and situations. Today’s AI fails at what humans do best: improvise. The progress of AI augments well for fields such as science and engineering, where new human jobs will be created to make use of the latest technologies. Domains such as renewable energy will see job growth where humans will be required to make the best use out of highly advanced and smart technologies.
As the use of AI spreads, it will eliminate jobs in one field and create jobs in others. It will thus become critical to re-skill the workers in low-skilled jobs for enabling them to adapt to the world of AI. Even as a strong debate goes on about the future of AI and its impact on human lives and jobs, your future, as Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, is humans working alongside computers, not being replaced by them.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was published with the title “Why Artificial Intelligence won’t steal people’s jobs.” We have since updated it to “Will Artificial Intelligence drive you jobless?” in order to convey a more open-ended meaning.