Since day one as a founder in the AI space, I’ve seen headline after headline about how artificial intelligence is out to replace humans — despite the fact that artificial intelligence is better suited to enhance human workers’ capabilities than replace them.
First off, artificial intelligence, although oftentimes depicted in sci-fi movies as embedded into a robot, isn’t a robot but is rather a new form of software.
With this out of the way, it’s important to understand what the future holds for where we are going with AI today. I recently shared my thoughts on this and concluded with the idea that the future of AI is human, that is to say, the future will revolve around humans working alongside AI systems rather than being replaced by them.
Right now the economy does not show signs of a coming AI-jobpocalypse. Unemployment in the United States stands at below 4.5% at the time of penning this piece, and the big concern that many employers have is that they face labor shortages, rather than labor surpluses. Widening our scope, unemployment rate in the developed world is down to 5.5% and heading towards a 40-year low.
I was recently in Washington, DC and had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Congressman Robert Latta, author of the the Self-Driving Car Legislation, speak about the role he sees automation playing in the future. Coincidentally, I was lucky enough to meet Congressman Latta on the very day that the Self-Driving Car Legislation was approved by House — he had to run off to the vote right after speaking to the group I was with.
Congressman Latta’s message was clear — more jobs rather than less — with the need to double and triple down on education to ensure folks in the workforce are retooled for their future jobs working with machines rather than being replaced by them. I couldn’t agree more with Congressman Latta. As the representative of Ohio’s 5th congressional district Bowling Green, Congressman Latta is acutely aware of the reality of the challenges being faced by everyday Americans and he has taken concrete steps to address them pro-actively.
As a founder of ROSS Intelligence, the leading AI company in the legal space, I continue to see lawyers using AI to further their reach, take on more clientsand perform at levels never before possible. This is the strength of artificial intelligence, it enables us as humans to further productivity and do more — but it does not take us as humans out of the loop.
While jobs will certainly change in scope as technology advances, it is important to remember that the role of a lawyer is substantially different in 2017 than what it was in 1907 without a reduced overall demand, and all of this change was prior to widespread availability of artificial intelligence software (or in some cases, of any software at all!)
The biggest trend I continue to hear about is not job losses but a shift in the kind of jobs that are available. The consulting firm Capgemini recently surveyed 1,000 organizations which have deployed AI systems already and found that 4 out of 5 of them have created more jobs since the deployment of AI. Even more excitingly, 3/4 of respondents to Capgemini’s survey attributed a 10% or greater rise in sales as a result of deploying their AI-based solution.
Another famed consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, recently weighed in on this shift in the job market, finding that, “one-third of new jobs created in the United States in the past 25 years were types that did not exist, or barely existed, in areas including IT development, hardware manufacturing, app creation, and IT systems management.”
While it is obvious that not all industries will benefit from an untapped latent talent in the labor pool creating whole new job categories in response to technology, such as what we are seeing occur in law, medicine and IT, the key will rest in the retooling and education of those being replaced by automated systems.
According to Goldman Sachs, autonomous cars could ultimately eat up 300,000 driving jobs a year but that won’t happen for at least another 25 years, leaving more than enough time for the economy to adapt. This means that yes the transportation industry will change dramatically, but the devastating effect on the trucking job market may not be as dramatic as many have suggested.
Along the same vein, I like to remind people that when the ATM came out, many feared that these machines spelled the end for bank tellers. The name itself, Automated Teller Machine, didn’t do much to assuage those fears either. But since it’s introduction in 1970, the numbers of bank tellers continued to rise. The reason: what banks found is that because the number of human tellers needed in each branch would fall, ATM’s made it cheaper to open more branches, leading to more human teller jobs overall. Most importantly, as anyone who remembers heading to the bank ahead of the weekend to withdraw money, consumer satisfaction with banks continued to rise as they were able to withdraw their money 24/7 in a convenient fashion.
And yes, for the person about to hop in the comments of this piece and highlight that the Department of Labor does predict that the number of tellers will decline by about ~8% over the next decade I do know that — but that’s a gradual decline in a field attracting few new applicants, rather than the kind of cataclysmic one-year drop off that had been predicted so many decades ago. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this 8% decline over the next decade may have more to do with other recent trends such as online banking and folks using less cash rather than because of ATM’s themselves. Also, it’s 2017, meaning that 47 years later the machines that were going to replace tellers still haven’t done so.
I must admit that just because fears in the past about automation have proven to be false does not mean they will continue to be so in the future. That being said, it’s hard to give into the headline hype about robots replacing humans considering everything we’ve seen in the past.
I’ll leave readers with this fact. Of the 270 detailed occupations listed in the 1950 US Census, only ONE occupation has since been eliminated by automation according to Harvard economist James E. Bessen. The one job the robots truly took from us? Professional elevator operator.
It isn’t that AI will not automate parts of jobs, this is clear and already in motion, it’s that AI won’t likely be able to automate entire jobs. As Bessen stated in a 2016 piece this distinction is important because, “if a job is completely automated, then automation necessarily reduces employment. But if a job is only partially automated, employment might actually increase.”
The future of work will see a dramatic revolution — a world in which humans and machine systems work together to accomplish more than ever before possible and I for one am very optimistic about what the future holds…
…so don’t hold your breath on finding a robot sitting in your seat at work tomorrow, because with AI, you may have more work to do than ever before.
CEO & Co-Founder of ROSS Intelligence. International speaker on the subjects of AI, legal technology, & entrepreneurship and has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, BBC, Wired, Bloomberg, Fortune, Inc., Forbes, TechCrunch, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.