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Artificial Intelligence Will Steal Your Job… — Part 1/2
To cut it short.
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Concerns about Artificial Intelligence are gaining ground
Artificial Intelligence is definitely going to take over the world, replacing or controlling humans. Leading eventually to their extinction. Now, if this is what you wanted to hear, you may as well stop reading. But if you really want to know what’s what, you might want to read on. So when you happen across the next person who says “AI will ruin us all”, you’ll know how to answer. Because this is not a Spielberg movie, although it would be cool to be a part of it. This is the real world, and the real world is based on facts and figures.
In the last few months we have seen many episodes concerning Artificial Intelligence that have raised (once again) many concerns and questions about its use. First there was the Google engineer claiming AI’s sentience. Then, there was the State Fair’s fine arts competition in Colorado which was won by a man who submitted an AI-generated piece of art to the contest. In short, it is clear that the issue of AI is not something that is going to go away quickly, there will always be discussions about it.
The questions are always the same: is it ethical? Is it dangerous? Does it have limits or regulations? Will it become sentient or maybe powerful? Will its intelligence surpass that of people? Will people stop being human and forget how to interact with each other?
It kind of happened the same thing with other discoveries and technologies introduced in our lives throughout history. When newspapers became a daily habit, people could not help but read it on the train, at the barber shop or even walking down the street, and people feared that they would lose the habit of talking to each other on public transportation or in the park. Same thing happened with smartphones and youngsters. Well, I still see elderly people sitting in the park chatting or feeding pigeons, as I also see kids playing ball and children going down slides and chasing each other. And what about postcards? Remember when you used to come home from summer vacation and the mailbox was full of postcards from friends and relatives from the places they had been on vacation? And then people stopped sending postcards, ’cause smartphones allowed you to send tons of pictures, messages, and share everything you were doing on vacation. You know what? I came home from my summer vacation a few weeks ago and I found a postcard from Kentucky in my mailbox. Ain’t that crazy?
But I get it, here we’re talking about something else. Something bigger, on which our entire lives depend on and that goes for the long haul. Your job. My job. Everybody’s jobs. However, the point I’m about to make starts from the fact that not all things are replaced or forgotten, but simply placed side by side and added to what we already have, likely generating new processes and discoveries, advancing humanity one step further. It’s called progress. Questions are always the same, the answers might be different, but they are out there. Concerns are fair, but they can easily be addressed.
Artificial Intelligence applications in today’s world
Artificial intelligence is set to become, or it already is, one of the most important technologies of the 21st century. We can firmly say that we live in an exciting time for the future of technology. The fact that AI is being used in many ways and in many different fields and areas, impacting several aspects of our lives might raise questions, the first and perhaps most troubling of all is: is AI going to replace humans in their jobs? Are there going to be less jobs ’cause the human labor force will have become obsolete?
Let’s take a step back. Do you know where AI is being applied today? Three main tasks that AI is versed in are:
- automation, where many repetitive, monotonous and error-prone tasks are performed by automated processes;
- data analysis, which allows organizations to gain previously inaccessible information by discovering new patterns and correlations in data faster;
- Natural Language Processing (NLP), which is particularly beneficial as it enables search engines to be smarter, chatbots to be more useful and interactive, and increases accessibility for people with disabilities.
These tasks lead to improvements and faster procedures like for example improved IT processes, digital transformation, smarter supply chains, marketing and customer experience, quality control and quality assurance and much more. Therefore, the fields in which AI is most widely applied are:
- healthcare. AI is used to build sophisticated machines that can detect diseases and identify cancer cells. It can also help analyze chronic conditions with lab and other medical data to ensure early diagnosis. Machine learning (the most common form of AI) is used by precision medicine. This is able to predict what treatment procedures are likely to be successful with patients based on their make-up and the treatment framework.
- autonomous driving. AI is used to operate the self-driving vehicle through sensors, cameras, GPS, radar. It can also provide additional systems like emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and driver-assist steering. Many critical issues, however, in terms of regulations and responsibilities still need to be resolved.
- finance. The financial industry relies on accuracy, real-time reporting, and processing high volumes of quantitative data to make decisions. The industry is rapidly implementing automation, chatbots, adaptive intelligence, algorithmic trading and machine learning into financial processes. Moreover, AI can also detect suspicious activities in transactions and other signs that can help identify frauds, and predict and assess loan risks.
- safety. Construction companies, utilities, agricultural companies, critical infrastructure and organizations working in outdoor locations or across large geographic areas are collecting data from endpoint devices such as cameras, thermometers, motion detectors and weather sensors. Organizations can, then, feed that data into intelligent systems that identify problem behaviors, dangerous conditions or business opportunities and can make recommendations or even take preventive or corrective action.
The list goes on and on, it could drive you nuts. E-commerce, social media, travels, education, marketing, gaming, human resources. The value of AI to organizations is undeniable; it has actually been compared to the strategic value and impact of electricity in the early 20th century that had transformed industries and created new ones. AI does not simply automate work tasks, but it generates a more efficient way to complete a task and adjust workflows as circumstances change.
All these just listed above are AI applications that we know are out there right now, and they have also been in use for quite a while, but we seldom think about what moves these processes, because we are used to them. They are something that we come into contact with every day, so we don’t think about it too much. We consider it normal. I guess for many people now it is normal to wake up in the morning and say “Alexa, open the blinds”. Another example is given by Gmail. Have you ever noticed that when you’re writing an e-mail the editor suggests you the next word you might want to write? Maybe you’ve noticed, but you don’t actually realize that there’s an AI behind it, using deep learning to autocomplete a process. But it doesn’t bother you, does it? You actually enjoy it. And talking about Gmail, did you know that it has 99.99% accuracy in keeping the spam away from your inbox? That’s another AI’s strong suit. And what about mistakes? Double letters, misspellings, punctuation…very convenient to have it pointed out to us.
But let’s not get too far off topic, I know we’re not talking about opening blinds or correcting grammar mistakes. I’ll get to the point.
Concerns about AI stealing jobs
So where does the concern about AI coming to “steal” our jobs come from? It’s hard to say. There can be a million reasons. Is it because it is something new? That we yet know very little about? Or is it because we think about things that we used to do ourselves and now AI-powered tools do it for us? Like searching the route on our smartphones when we’re on a road trip, instead of consulting a map? Or is it a matter of the perception people have of AI? A perception that has been instilled in us perhaps by novels and movies, in which AI is depicted solely and exclusively in the form of robots with more or less human bodies and faces. Not only; humans are training models to simulate human ways and thinking, to talk like us and perform calculations like us, just faster. That’s why people tend to personify AI, ’cause the first thing that comes to someone’s mind are robots. And robots look scarier than algorithms that help us prevent accidents, find frauds and identify cancer cells.
So assuming that AI does not exclusively mean robots with human likenesses, it just means a series of algorithms and mathematical models that we are kind of used to already, let’s now take two steps back. We were talking about concerns about your job, my job or any job in which AI can overtake and replace us. Concerns about jobs and employment are real. The lack of work is real. People struggling to find work are real.
When the Industrial Revolution hit England at first, people were afraid that there would be fewer jobs and the population would become poorer. If you attended History class you know what the consequences have been: profound growth, economic development, technological innovations, creation of new jobs and demographic explosion.
So why point fingers at AI, when in fact AI will be the engine that will create new jobs? Exactly as happened with the Industrial Revolution. You’re wondering how and why? I’ll tell you everything you need to know to answer these questions.
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