Kathleen Walch Contributor
COGNITIVE WORLD Contributor Group AI
AI brings mixed emotions and opinions when referenced in the context of jobs. If you ask the question “Do you think Artificial Intelligence will be a net job killer or net job creator?” to colleagues, friends, or strangers you’re bound to get some very strong opinions on this subject. For sure you will hear an interesting and conflicting set of opinions that range from “AI will destroy all jobs as we know it” to “AI will enable us to work better and do new things we’ve never been able to do”. If you look at various economic and analyst predictions, their assessments are all over the place, ranging from dramatic job losses across most economic sectors to large increases in employment due to dramatic increases in job productivity. Of course, as with everything, the true answer will be somewhere in the middle. There’s no doubt that AI will eliminate the need for many different kinds of jobs in many different categories. But at the same time, AI will create new jobs in categories that we know of, and many more in categories that have yet to be created.
Is AI a Job Killer?
A Gallup poll from 2018 reveals that many people think AI will destroy jobs, but just not theirs. In fact, in that poll, over 73% of Americans believe that AI will be a net job destroyer, but only 23% of these same surveyed adults were worried about it. How can you reconcile those two positions? In that same survey, over 90% of those polled believed that AI will destroy at least half of all jobs, but 91% of them believed it wouldn’t impact their employment. The general consensus from the average person is that AI is continuing the unimpeded progress of automation and technology that brings increasing levels of productivity. Businesses will be able to do more with their existing resources, and perhaps do more with fewer resources, with those resources being primarily human labor and the costs associated with it.
For sure you will hear an interesting and conflicting set of opinions that range from “AI will destroy all jobs as we know it” to “AI will enable us to work better and do new things we’ve never been able to do”.AI & Machine Learning are are creating a substantive debate
The Machine Starts LEARNING…..Automation has been embraced by companies for many decades, but automation is not intelligence and there is no doubt that the addition of more cognitive capabilities in the technologies that companies use will allow organizations to rethink their usage of human labor for activities as wide ranging as call center operations, warehouse activities, trucking and transportation, brick-and-mortar retail, and even mining, oil, and gas activities. Many make the argument that job losses won’t be felt at the top or bottom of the pay scale, but rather in the middle. There will be less management by humans, and more management by machines and AI colleagues. Collectively these middle income jobs employ a very large percentage of the American population so this will no doubt have an impact on jobs and the workforce.
A Bureau of Labor & Statistics report from 2017 reports that most employment is in retail, professional services, healthcare, and government. It’s no surprise then that AI may take a chunk out of retail, government, and professional services employment. In fact, a workforce adjustment is already being experienced in areas that require human-intensive labor moving paper or bits and bytes around from one place to another. These highly repetitive, regulatory intensive, and error-prone processes jobs are being replaced by computer systems. Why have a human move information around when a computer can do just as good a job, especially with the ability to understand the meaning and context of information? Furthermore, while we’re still in the very early (and possibly dangerous) days of autonomous vehicles, there’s no question that the future direction of the transportation, warehouse, and logistics industries is rapidly heading to an autonomous future. Truck driving, which represents the largest employer by number of people employed by category in many US states will clearly be a job position in jeopardy in the future.
Is AI a Job Creator?
The argument with every wave of technology, from the automatic weaving looms of the early industrial revolution to the computers of today is that jobs are not destroyed, but rather employment shifts from one place to another as entirely new categories of employment are created. The Luddites might have wrecked the mills as a protest against machine-enabled automation, but today, those same workers would be defending manufacturing against the disappearance of those jobs. In fact, if you look back far enough, you’ll see the trend away from manufacturing and towards professional services started just after World War II and the irresistible move towards globalization. Some have even made the stark point that the only reason why American manufacturing stayed a significant employer until the late 1970s was because World War II destroyed so much manufacturing capacity in Europe and Asia that the United States was the de facto manufacturing leader for many decades afterwards.
In 1910, manufacturing, transportation, retail, and domestic services were the major employers. Inventions such as the washing machine, dishwasher, microwave, and cooktops / ranges put an end to domestic service as a major employer. Yet, the US didn’t experience massive waves of unemployment, because we invented whole new major sectors of the economy in professional services which barely even existed as a category in 1910. Likewise, the evolution of major employer by category shifted significantly from even 1978, when secretaries were the largest category of employee type. Along came computers and out went entire rooms of typewriters, filing cabinets, and people handling the scheduling of management staff. Yet, again, the United States didn’t have a major economic collapse or massive waves of unemployment because new employment categories emerged before the old ones were fully retired.
Furthermore, there are many categories of employment that will be relatively un-impacted by even super-cognitive AI-enabled systems. The government, healthcare, education, leisure and hospitality, and many professional services categories (notably real estate) will continue being major employers. Even with the addition of AI to these industries humans will still be needed, they will just be better at their jobs and more responsive to the needs of other humans, rather than replacing them. After all there’s nothing more human than government or lounging in a hotel. As long as there are humans, we’ll have government, teachers, doctors, and cabanas. Even in areas where robotics have had a significant impact, we see puzzling contradictions. Amazon is employing more people than ever in its warehouses even though it has one of the highest penetrations of intelligent automation.
AI Will Kill Jobs in Some Categories, but Create Entirely New Categories of Jobs
The real job creator will be entirely new categories of jobs that we can’t even think of yet. If you went back in time 20 or 30 years and told someone that they would work as a social media marketer they would have no idea what you were talking about. Likewise, if you go forward 20 to 30 years there will be whole sectors of the economy and major employers that are not even be possible today. Yesterday’s manufacturers are today’s programmers. Yesterday’s secretaries are today’s database administrators. Yesterday’s milkmen are today’s Uber drivers. Indeed, it’s not that jobs have been created or destroyed, but rather entire job categories are gone and new ones have taken their place.
Humans have a very, very hard time imagining what sort of new jobs and new sectors will come to be. Since we can only truthfully envision what might be gone tomorrow, but have a hard time imagining what will be possible, our limited human minds make the mental calculation that the net impact will be negative. But that’s simply not the case. There is no doubt that there will be new categories of jobs that relate directly to the creation of AI-enabled capabilities, whether in software or hardware. However, no one can argue that any number of those jobs will make up for the decline in workers that come from using those products. Data scientists, robotic engineers, and ML programmers will not make up for fewer truck drivers or call center workers. Rather, the creation will be where we least expect it. Will there be entirely new categories of professional services that would be impossible without the use of advanced intelligence as a helper? Will we see a massive wave of self-employment enabled by intelligent assistants and third-party services that turn individuals into major powerhouse corporations of one?
There is no question that the world’s economies are undergoing a revolutionary shift as we move from one age of industrialization to another — something that many in the industry are calling Industry 4.0. The transition between each wave of industrialization is not necessarily a clean one. If new job categories are not created before old job categories are retired, then the transition can be a messy one. However, it’s clear that we’re already embarked on the transition, and now it remains to be seen what the future will create with the new capabilities that are being developed. Only time will tell what new jobs will appear and which ones will disappear.Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.
Kathleen Walch is Managing Partner & Principal Analyst at AI Focused Research and Advisory firm Cognilytica (http://cognilytica.com), a leading analyst firm focus…