The AI Effect in the World of Work
April 5, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

The industrial revolution saw massive leaps in science and technology that were unprecedented only a few hundred years ago. In just 150 years, built machines that could have been thought of as magical in medieval Europe. The last few decades have enabled us to make massive leaps in computing power, prompting us to forge into a domain that has remained untouched for much of human history.

New and exciting developments in big data, AI and IoT will allow us to automate much of the work we do today. While the machines in the 20th century were designed to be the brawn as man did much of the thinking, 21st century technology is going to automate brain work. 

Tomorrow’s machines are going to have the phenomenal ability to think, create, understand and reason. Sounds like science fiction? I thought so too until I heard about Deepmind’s famous Alpha Zero. Created using neural network technology, AlphaZero learnt chess in only 24 hours and was able to beat famous world-champion programs Stockfish and Elmo. 

AlphaGo, also built by Deepmind, was able to beat world champion Lee Sedon at Go, a game so complex many thought no computer programme could possibly master, let alone beat a human.

Open AI CEO Sam Altman predicts that AI will be able to read legal documents and give medical advice in the next five years. In ten years, they could do assembly work and even become companions! 

While some of these predictions may sound wildly optimistic, they do point to a trend and a reality that we will all have to accept: the AI revolution is here! And like previous technological revolutions, it’s going to change the world in ways that no one can fully predict.  

Much like previous revolutions, we will have to consider the ramifications of this technology and how it will affect our futures. Indeed, we have already begun doing that, albeit a little negatively with the internet and sci-fi literature awash with very grim predictions of the evil that rogue AI is going to cause. Even tech mogul Elon Musk warned that “AI poses an existential threat to civilisation.” 

Most are, however, more concerned about AIs effect on the economy, more specifically on the inevitable fact that AI is going to take away many people’s jobs. Indeed, numerous studies have found that AI is already eliminating lots of low-skill jobs. 

Deloitte, for instance, found that 800,000 low-skilled manufacturing jobs in the UK were eliminated in one year alone. Moreover, with continued intellectual and financial investment into AI, we are going to see many more functions currently operated by humans simply disappear.

However, if history is anything to go by, humans have always been resistant to new technology, even if it radically improves our lives. Most people just aren’t comfortable with change. While new technology does automate lots of jobs, it does create new ones. The same study by Deloitte, for instance, found that while AI did eliminate 800,000 manufacturing jobs, it also created 3.5 million new higher-skill ones.

Now, this does not mean that this will be the general trend and will apply across the board, but it does mean that AI may not be the threat that many think it is. Predicting the future is a tricky affair and few if any get it right, but we can assess today and get insights that will help us make a more accurate prognosis.

That is why I chose the car industry as the poster child to show the real time effects of AI on an industry.

Self-Driving Cars and their Effects on the Economy

The auto industry has, in the last few years, been experiencing a radical overhaul. Climate change and advancements in technologies such as AI, IoT and battery technology are pushing auto makers to completely alter their approach to auto design. Vehicles in the next ten years may be radically different in technology, design and usage.

Are these changes going to be good for the global economy? Only time will tell. But as it stands, we can at least assess the effects one of these technologies is already having on the industry, namely AI in the form of self-driving vehicles.

The buzz around self-driving cars went to fever pitch in recent months. Companies all over the globe are fighting to build autonomous vehicles. Today there are more than 30 companies working on self-driving cars/trucks. This list comprises the who’s-who of the tech world with big names such as Google, Amazon and, most famously. Tesla heading the list. Even automakers like Volvo, Hyundai and Nissan whose traditional products have been gasoline-fuelled manned vehicles are joining the bandwagon. 

For drivers who make up about 2.86 % of the total population of the US, for instance, this is not good news. As the technology gets better it means that there will be a reduced need for human drivers in the market. 

For now, however, most drivers can rest easy as the technology is a little far off from true automation, so called ‘Level 5’. Even those companies touting to have reached ‘full automation’ are only able to achieve level 3, which still requires quite a bit of human effort. In fact, most mainstream automakers are still stuck at Level 2, not because of a lack of technological capability but mainly due to safety issues. With a fully digital autonomous system, driverless cars are particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

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