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Artificial Intelligence and the Future of work

Will AI create more or less jobs ?

What side of the debate are you on ? What debate you may ask ?

The debate around the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the future of work.

Do you believe that AI will create more jobs or will there be fewer jobs in the future ?

At a recent conference, I asked the audience to vote on this question and the mostly technical audience were split evenly on each side. i.e. approximately half the audience felt that there would be more jobs (and the converse that approx. half felt there would be less jobs)

I sit in the camp that says there will be more jobs. However, those jobs will be different and perhaps we don’t even know what those jobs are yet.

 Before actually entering this debate, we need to define and understand what is AI.

There are effectively two types of AI. I label these as Simple AI and Clever AI . So what are these two ?

Simple AI could be defined as the seemingly intelligent response we get from a set of complex programming rules that “simulate” intelligence. The response we get from Siri or Alexa, whilst seemingly intelligent is merely based on a set of complex algorithms.  The reason these have come to the fore as Simple AI is that the power of computing has grown so substantially that more and more complex algorithms can run in almost real time and appear to be “intelligent”. 

Clever AI on the other hand is based around trying to create something that works just like the human brain. Machine learning is effectively a subset of Clever AI where, just like the brain, cognition and nuance come into play. Clever AI is designed to make a decision tomorrow that is potentially better than the decision made today through a process of learning.

There is no actual debate around the fact that many simpler, repetitive tasks will begin to disappear. Tasks that are relatively easy to replace with Simple AI.

At the same conference that I referenced above, I asked the audience to participate in a few simple ethical questions and vote on how they would decide. The results of this exercise, which I have run numerous times, showed that in a relatively homogeneous group of technical people, there was a distinct lack of agreement when faced with ethical questions.

So why is this relevant to AI. 

Its almost counter intuitive, but if group of relatively homogeneous people could not agree on ethical questions then how are machines ever going to “learn” how to make those decisions. I don’t believe they ever will. There are many people who, like me, believe that Clever AI has its limitations in trying to re-create the human brain.

So back to the opening question of whether AI will create jobs.

The simple truth is that AI requires humans to program, deploy and maintain the systems. In December 2017, Gartner Research predicted that 2020 would be the watershed year for AI. They predicted that in 2020 AI would eliminate 1.8m jobs and at the same time create 2.3m jobs. Additionally, by 2025 the net job increase will be in excess of 2m roles.

Many of these jobs will be in areas that are yet to be envisaged, and companies will need to be committed to continuous learning and re-training of team members to fill rolls that don’t exist yet.

Culture will determine future success

This comes back to the fundamentals of culture. The future of culture is the future of work. Organizations that create rich and robust cultures now will position themselves as employers of choice in the future and for them the future of work is bright and shiny.

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