Android robot

Artificial intelligence is the future, and we need to embrace it

There is a lot of chatter these days about artificial intelligence and how that will impact work over the next century. Much of the coverage is negative and how AI will take people’s jobs, but if we look long term AI can have a hugely positive impact on all our lives if we move society in the right direction.

Employees remain the most expensive resource for most companies, so it is no surprise that as soon as machines are smart enough to take jobs from people, CEOs around the world are starting to look to AI as a replacement for various parts of their workforce.

Robots have been changing manufacturing lines for the last few decades, so it is not a surprise that this is where some of the first jobs may go to artificial intelligence. The robots are getting smarter and their software is being written to be more complex and perform more tasks – which means less roles for people. There will always be a role for a small number of highly skilled engineers to monitor and maintain these increasingly complex robots, but the other manufacturing jobs will disappear sooner rather than later.

Similarly, driverless cars are already hitting the market, and few people will mind whether their next Uber is driven by a person or AI software, as long as they can get from A to B in good time and for a cheap price. The same is true for haulage. Again, these jobs will disappear in the near future, replaced by AI and a small number of engineers to maintain the systems and developers to expand upon it.

Many people are under the impression that more advanced jobs like journalists, lawyers, doctors, and the like will not suffer replacement by AI, but this just is not true. AP already has AI writing finance and business stories for syndication to news organisations around the world, the law is being encroached by increasingly clever bots, and IBM’s Watson is transforming healthcare delivery.

All these jobs disappearing could be cause for concern, but if we look at the history – each technological revolution has with it brought both new forms of employment and fundamental changes to our society, and the AI revolution is no different – we just have to think differently.

Universal basic income (UBI) is a popular but controversial idea that a number of economists have floated to try and change the economic make-up of society to deal with a rapid fall in the number of jobs. Other similar ideas such as negative income tax and working income tax credits also have their supporters, but another interesting idea recently floated by Steve Fuller was to start charging companies that use our personal data for their profits to pay for that privilege. Companies like Google and Facebook extract billions of pounds from their userbase every year, and will be some of the big players in AI – maybe those that benefit the most from AI should be the ones to foot the bill?

We are still in the early stages of the AI revolution, so there will be a million ideas floated and tested until we find the right solution, but there is no reason to believe that the future will be doom and gloom because of AI anymore than it could be all rainbows and unicorns. One thing is clear, however, and that is that as Andrew Charlton eloquently puts it: “economic prosperity is “a complex combination of long-term policies and global circumstances”, so the planning for the future must start now.

Photograph by Mammela

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