AI and the future jobs market

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This week saw the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, warn that the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” due to artificial intelligence making many jobs obsolete.

He warned that the possible disruption from the Fourth Industrial Revolution could be on a much greater scale than any of the previous Industrial Revolutions and that it’s imperative that people are given the training needed to take advantage of the new jobs that would become available.

Robots have transformed industrial manufacturing over the past couple of decades, from food production to restaurant kitchens and from car manufacturing to customer support, every major industry are using artificial intelligence powered machines to perform tasks which require learning as well as judgment. From self-driving cars to insurance assessment, from stock trading to accounting robotics has come a long way and AI-powered robots have been in use in all major industries.

Andy Haldane, stated, “The first three industrial revolutions have been largely about machines replacing humans doing principally manual tasks, whereas the fourth will be different. All of a sudden it will be the machine replacing humans doing thinking things, as well as doing things”.

There is no shortage of angst when it comes to the impact of AI on jobs. The impact of AI will affect very different parts of the workforce than earlier waves of automation. Tasks within jobs typically show considerable variability in suitability for machine learning while few jobs can be fully automated using AI. Machine learning technology can transform many jobs in the economy, but full automation will be less significant than the re-engineering of processes and the reorganization of tasks. Menial, as well as complicated, tasks that might once have needed the human touch are slowly but surely being replaced with the accuracy of computers.

People with manual jobs in industries such as transportation, manufacturing and storage, will the ones with the most amount of risk of losing their work as a result of advancements in AI.

On the other hand, a report by the United Nations (UN) has predicted that robots will cover up 56 per cent of all the low-wage jobs in the coming two decades. However, customer relation roles and other roles focused on skills of human interaction, as well as negotiation, could also increase simultaneously with advancements in technology.

What is important is that instead of debating how jobs will be wiped out, people need to focus on the redesign of jobs and re-engineering of business processes. While AI and machine learning will be everywhere, the suitability for machine learning of work tasks varies greatly. 

Some of the job activities are more susceptible to automation, while others require judgment, social skills and other hard-to-automate human capabilities. Just because some of the activities in a job have been automated, does not mean that the whole job will disappear. Instead, automating parts of a job will often increase the productivity and quality of workers by complementing their skills with machines and computers, as well as enabling them to focus on those aspects of the job that most need their attention.

Tabitha Goldstaub, chair of the newly formed Artificial Intelligence Council, said that the challenge was ensuring that people were ready for change and that the focus was on creating the new jobs of the future to replace those that would disappear.

Ultimately, the key to success will be the ability to monitor and capitalise on AI capabilities to deliver more value and service to customers. Employees can play a vital role in identifying opportunities, training models and algorithms, and taking a leadership role in determining if the systems are delivering business value in an ethical way.

As with the previous Industrial Revolutions, ultimately the jobs market will be enriched and elevated through technological advancements, but the best jobs will be those created to employ AI that links customers to the services and products they need.