Throughout the course of history, humanity has seen a gradual evolution of technology. Technology represents a new implementation of tools or machinery which helps the user to achieve a goal, or complete a task, with ease. As the years of human existence have progressed, so has the technology we use; and with new technology building upon the old, there is an increasing speed at which development happens. As technology has evolved, so has dependence upon it. From the turn of the 21st century, computer technology has become virtually essential to American culture. Most jobs and careers require some element of computer assistance. Today we are seeing a dramatic increase in the capabilities of technology, and a corresponding increase in reliance on them.
One example of such a life-changing technology, is that of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Simply explained, AI could be described as, “just about any computerized function.” (Altman). However, while typical computers simply organize data, Artificial Intelligence programs are designed to make decisions and recognize data patterns (Altman). A more complex, yet precise, definition of the technology could be in the federal government’s definition of AI:
Any artificial systems that perform tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence (Gershgorn).
The technological advances toward AI are meant to reduce human efforts and develop machines that can do complex tasks with ease, not unlike other technological developments throughout human history. However, AI is far more complex. It is an interesting technology, with many layers of potential, and implications. The advances made in AI technology are astounding, however it leaves us asking, “What does AI mean for the future?”
This paper will explore the present-day developments in Artificial Intelligence, as well as projections for the future of this technology. It will also explore how AI will impact many existing careers, and what AI will mean for these jobs in the future: both positive and negative implications.
CURRENT IMPLEMENTATIONS OF AI IN THE WORKFORCE
There are many forms of AI technology which are currently being used to improve the quality of jobs. Machines, and decision-making computer technology are regularly incorporated in jobs of the 21st century to improve the quality of work or supplement the human component of a job. While this technology is typically simple in its application and presents no real threat to humans at this stage, the capability of these machines is advancing.
Presently something called “Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning” are two phrases in the world of AI that can help to explain the potential transition from human to machine workforce. “Cloud Robotics” is the concept in which a robot, or machine gathers information based on its own experiences, and stores that information in the cloud. This allows the machine to store endless amounts of information. “Deep Learning” is achieved through software which is meant to simulate the part of the human brain where thought takes place. This software is capable of recognizing patterns, sounds, and other data, which enables the machine to learn (MacEwan). We see examples everywhere.
One such example is the use of AI technology in the onboarding process of a new job. AI technology is frequently implemented in order to sort through and weed out potential candidates for a position based on the data within their digital application. Before a person even sees an applicant’s information, it can be run through a series of computer applications to determine if that individual is a qualified candidate. While this implementation of AI is a simpler form of the technology, in this case a machine is, in fact, making decisions in order to simplify the task for the individual who must then make hiring decisions (Altman).
Another, very different, example of the present-day use of AI technology is in agriculture. When it comes to dairy farming, there are a number of machines whose function is to streamline the process of milking a cow and replace the need for human interaction completely. This technology is designed to funnel herds of cattle into a facility, locate and position each individual cow, and extract the milk, in a completely automated fashion (Nogrady &Cubbin 52).
Not only is Artificial Intelligence penetrating some arenas of the workface today, but the development of the technology itself, is also creating a growing population of technology workers. In fact, there are a number of vacant jobs in the field of technology, and not enough skilled workers to occupy them. Tech-employment areas, such as software development and data science are currently dealing with a gap in talent. It is projected that the need for more “experts in tech jobs will continue to grow as artificial intelligence finds its way into even more domains.” (Dickson 116).
NEGATIVE IMPLICATIONS OF AI ON THE WORKFORCE
The popular conception of the future of Artificial Intelligence is often fueled by paranoia. With so many representations of AI in popular culture as the robot slowly evolving to take of the world and destroy humanity, it is not unnatural to be concerned with the potential risks that AI could present. While super-intelligent robots with ideas of world domination are extreme and fictionalized projection for AI technology, and presumably decades away, there is a much more real risk to the evolution and implementation of AI on the horizon.
Some believe that as computers learn to learn, and evolve to develop decision-making skills, rational, and judgement, through the existing “Deep Learning” technology, that the threat to humanity will lie in the ability to be replaced. Thinking back throughout history technology has almost always been developed in order to do the tasks of humans, typically taking over unwanted or tedious jobs. Often times this has meant technology that simplifies difficult tasks. Examples such as farming equipment, and the cotton gin come to mind; both examples of technology which made life easier for those at the time, by significantly reducing the physical output required by people.
However, in the case of AI, we ask the question, “What makes this time different?” Technology and machines of the past were generally developed and implemented in order to reduce human labor. However, the technology of AI is, for all intents and purposes, designed to replace human thought and decision-making, thereby presenting a very different application. AI is approaching the ability to “learn from experience, respond to changes in situation, compare, compute, read, hear, smell, and make extremely rapid adjustments (‘decisions’) in their actions.” (MacEwan 29). With this dramatic increase in AI capability, this concern is not unwarranted.
Today, autonomous technology exists in the form of transportation. Vehicles now exist which can travel without the necessity of a driver, or even a passenger. At the current stage of development, we can safely assume that the not-so-distant future will mean driverless cars. For some this state of development is exciting, and for others it is scary. Switzerland is currently piloting autonomous buses as a form of public transportation; meanwhile other parts of Europe are working towards autonomous shipping which could eliminate the need for any person to be aboard shipping vessels (Nogrady &Cubbin 53). In this example, there is a very real possibility of job loss for professional drivers of taxis and semi trucks, ship captains, crew, etc. The fear is that once that switch is flipped, and the technology begins to be implemented, that there will be a rapid period of transition in which AI machines take on more and more work, posing a disruption in the workforce. In the article Will Artificial Intelligence Mean Massive Job-Loss? MacEwan likens this transition to the Great Recession, describing the potential for workers whose jobs are replaced by AI finding new jobs, only at lower wages (MacEwan 30).
“Every industrial revolution is as much about the displacement and adjustment of the workforce as it is about its replacement, and this newest cycle is no exception.” (Dickson 116). Even with technology as simple as the assembly lines, the fear of job loss has always been real. Much of the population that face potential job loss at the hands of AI do not have training, skills, or knowledge to enter the alternatively-growing field of technology (Dickson 118). The threat of job loss could be real to some, and certain jobs will be eliminated; but the real fear lies in the speed with which that will happen, and the ability of those workers to transition to new jobs before it is too late. Change such as this can be scary and have some economic backlash. However, the promise of an even more efficient, more productive workforce, as a result of AI implementation, will be enough to reduce the fears of those opposed to the inevitable transition.
POSITIVE IMPLICATIONS OF AI ON THE WORKFORCE
The article Game changing value from Artificial Intelligence: eight strategies analyzes the unknown impact of AI on the economics of business and explores how 16 key business industries could potentially be affected by the supplementation of AI technology. The results of this study found that all of these 16 industries stood to benefit from the use of Artificial Intelligence. AI technology had the capacity to streamline processes and augment human labor. This introduces the likelihood that human labor can go further, and be more effective, with the implementation of AI subsidization. This article also discussed the positive impact of AI on the training of human workers, ultimately finding that the workforce stands to benefit from the application of AI (Plastina & Purdy).
While AI technology does, inevitably, present the possibility of taking over some jobs that humans currently occupy, according to Stuart Frankel, the CEO of Narrative Science,
Technology has never been a destroyer of jobs… Look at almost every technology job that exists in any enterprise today. None of those jobs existed twenty years ago, and most of them probably didn’t even exist ten years ago ((Dickson 116).
Research, and expert speculation, overwhelmingly suggests that the overall threat of takeover, and totally elimination of human need is absolutely minimal. It is more probable that AI technology will supplement the jobs the positions of humans, and ultimately make their jobs easier, as well as create jobs within the growing fields of technology itself.
AI works best at tasks which can be easily broken down into a series of functions or routines. In the past this has been applied to laborious jobs. However, cognitive tasks which follow this same script are now able to be supplemented with AI. This enables humans to concentrate on creative, more enjoyable jobs (Dickson 116). There are numerous examples of “jobs” through which AI replacement will ultimately reduce or eliminate the risks associated with that job.
One such example on the horizon is in the militarization of AI. “Rather than wasting valuable human lives on the battlefield, conflicts of the future may be resolved by robot soldiers.” (Nogrady &Cubbin 55). It is speculated that some of these machines could potentially function in peacekeeping roles, others working more like drones monitoring and collecting data, and additional function could be simple motion-sensing weapons (Nogrady & Cubbin 55). All these applications of AI have to potential to save human life and reduce death and destruction in war times. There are numerous ethical concerns surrounding the implementation of this technology in this way, and that is why it is a possibility for the future, not an existing use of AI. However, contrary to the concern of machine technology stealing jobs, it presents an option for eliminating dangerous ones.
As previously mentioned, autonomous navigation systems, being explored for shipping purposes presents the possibility of eliminating the job of captain and crew. However, similar to the use of AI technology to replace soldiers, using the technology to replace ship workers could too save lives. These jobs are dangerous, dirty, and laborious, and supplementing these difficult jobs with AI could produce an impact more positive than negative.
Another life-saving form of AI technology has already been partially developed and implemented: firefighting AI. Presently, remote-controlled machinery is already being used in the fighting of fires. However, there is potential for even more technological development in this arena. Projected future fire-fighting technology will work similar to a swarm of bees spreading over a forest fire, or throughout a burning building, sending images and data back to a human crew (Nogrady & Cubbin 55). This technology can provide information to firefighters, thereby minimizing their risk, and potential danger. Just another example of how AI technology has the potential to save lives.
Another life-saving form of AI technology, which takes a different approach entirely, lies in the medical field. While in this case, the technology won’t replace a dangerous job, but supplement a career which has the potential to save many. Currently, the medical field contains a gap in skilled physicians. This has been an ongoing trend for many years (Dickson 120). AI technology provides a means of filling this gap. AI assisted surgery is an implementation of the technology which can reduce risks associated with invasive procedures, and work with more precision than the human hand. In this case of AI, the machine functions as an extension of a human surgeon, as opposed to completely replacing him or her completely. Through this new, advanced, process small incisions are made, through which surgical instruments navigate in order to perform a procedure. Meanwhile, the surgeon is several feet away, operating the advanced technology through a three-dimensional console. This process, in the hands of well-trained surgeon, has the potential for much less invasive surgery, which can result in less damage, decreased recovery time, and shorter hospital stays (Nogrady & Cubbin 57). Here again, the impact of AI technology has the potential to improve the workforce and save lives in the process.
AI technology in the medical field is not exclusive to surgeons. In addition to assisting in complex surgical procedures, AI can be used in detecting, as well as diagnosing and treating illness. While it will not completely replace doctors, again, AI can assist in tasks that will reduce the training time of medical professionals. It can also extend service to developing countries, without access to medical care. This widens the potential for services that had previously been limited to those with access to extensively trained doctors. “AI is enabling more people to [work hands-on with patients] making knowledge more accessible. In this way AI will actually create more jobs.” (Dickson 121).
An additional utilization of artificial intelligence technology in the workforce is in Cybersecurity. IBM, the world’s eighth-largest information technology company, recently launched an AI-based Cybersecurity platform. They’ve named this technology “Watson.” “Watson uses machine learning algorithms to sift through tons of structured and unstructured data.” (Dickson, 2017: 120). This machine is able to learn trends in Cybersecurity, and the threats that are posed. Its capabilities assist analysts in better performing in their jobs. It is likened to a paramedic assisting a physician in their work. As opposed to taking over the job of the analyst, Watson enables them to become more proficient, even with a lack of experience in working with security incidents.” (Dickson 120).
The final professional arena that must be address, in regards to AI, is the educational component. Leading universities across the country have introduced ethics courses, similar to those required by students of the medical field, into their Computer Science curriculum. The idea behind this being that the future of AI will require an incorporation of an ethical component. Because this technology has the potential to make serious decisions, with major potential human impact, this is a reality that must not be ignored. Professors from renowned universities like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT discuss the implications of machine bias, and are jumping to the forefront to anticipate this potential (Singer 2018). As the technology develops, ethical factors must too, be examined. Educating, studying, and researching the implications of AI, is another development which requires human efforts. Not only does developing AI and implementing AI technology create and supplement jobs but educating society as to it’s implications has developed into a whole other field of study.
Throughout the course of human history, technology has often posed a threat to society. With all new technology comes fear of the elimination of the human component of jobs and careers. While every major industrial revolution has faced some form of societal backlash, the ultimate implementation of technology results in improving processes, saving lives, and taking great economic strides. The technology of Artificial Intelligence is truly no different.
While AI will change the procedures through which some jobs function and eliminate the need for human labor in some cases, the resulting impact is projected to be overwhelmingly positive. AI technology will save lives in so many ways, it is creating new jobs at this very moment, and is making the jobs of many individuals much easier along the way. While it is easy to get caught up in the paranoia perpetuated by popular culture and entertainment industry, the threat of AI takeover is a fictional speculation, meant to induce terror, and it is a needless worry. Learning more about all of the advances that AI technology is capable of, and its ability to advance society and improve lives, will ultimately eliminate the fear, and can produce a peaceful transition into the future.
Altman, Ian. “What Artificial Intelligence Means To You And Your Business.” Forbes, 6 Feb. 2018, 9:20 am, www.forbes.com/sites/ianaltman/2018/02/06/what-artificial-intelligence-means-to-you-and-your-business/#42f76ae72044.
Dickson, Ben. “Artificial Intelligence Creates New Job Opportunities.” PC Mag, 1 June 2017, pp. 114–122.
Gershgorn, Devid. “US Congress Is Trying to Define What Artificial Intelligence Actually Means.” Quartzz, 12 Dec. 2017, qz.com/1154491/us-congress-is-trying-to-define-what-artificial-intelligence-actually-means/.
Macewan, Arthur. “Will Artifical Intelligence Mean Massive Job-Loss?” Dollars & Sense, 2016, pp. 29–31.
Nogrady, Bianca, and Nick Cubbin. “The Machine Generation.” Australian Geographic, 1 Sept. 2016, pp. 48–59. Academic Search Complete, 0-web.a.ebscohost.com.aspen.ald.lib.co.us/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&[email protected]
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Singer, Natasha. “Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It.” The New York Times, 12 Feb. 2018, nyti.ms/2BSOEJu.