AI Will Take Our Jobs & That’s OK!

Data Science Breakfast Meetup AI will take our jobs and that's okay

The growing adoption of artificial intelligence and automation has brought us to the verge of a second industrial revolution. Like the first revolution, swathes of jobs will be displaced as machines take over, but is it really a bad thing?

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with artificial intelligence and automation, so when a meetup notification popped up on my phone that read “AI will take our jobs and that’s ok!” I knew it would be a meetup I would enjoy.

On the morning of the Data Science Breakfast meetup in Sydney, a curious blend of data scientists, designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs converged on the General Assembly to hear Ted Speaker and tech CEO, Tomer Garzberg, talk on the topic of AI’s impact on the workforce. Usually, when discussing artificial intelligence there is a tendency to reach way into the future, but Tomer didn’t go there. Providing real-world examples of AI being used in manufacturing and in service markets, he focused on what is happening right now and how it will shape the global labor economies over the next half-decade.

Tomer provided insights into where AI is most likely to disrupt human labor markets in the short-term, with low-skill jobs and low-variability jobs, being the most open to disruption. The reality of the emerging disruption was underpinned by the work being undertaken by Tomer’s technology company, Gronade, which will see bots replacing many of the tasks undertaken by junior legal professionals. While this is a snapshot of what one company is doing in one industry, it is representative of a wider trend which is emerging across the world. A trend which is heading towards a second industrial revolution.

The AI Industrial Revolution

This is not a new topic amongst the technology community. In fact, another talk by Kevin Kelly at TEDSummit in 2016 perfectly captured the thoughts of many technologists.

At the TEDSummit, Kelly argued that AI will be the most influential development in our society for at least the next 20 years. He goes on to say, a second Industrial Revolution will be created based on artificial intelligence, rather than the artificial power of the first Industrial Revolution. But this is something we should embrace as humans, Kelly argues “because these bots will actually engender new kinds of jobs, new kinds of tasks that we want to be done, just as automation made up a whole bunch of new things that we didn’t know we needed before, and now we can’t live without them. So they’re going to produce even more jobs than they take away, but it’s important that a lot of the tasks that we’re going to give them are tasks that can be defined in terms of efficiency or productivity.”

Like the first Industrial Revolution, it is likely this revolution will likely lead to significant economic, social and political shifts. Therefore, there are many questions about ethics which will need to be tackled as this revolution gathers momentum.

AI and the future labor market

Like most technologists, the panel at the Data Science Breakfast meetup holds a quixotic view of a future AI enabled society. There is an acknowledgment that a huge amount of jobs will be wiped out the labor market. Specifically, a report by PwC estimates that in near future nearly 40% of U.S. jobs could be soon lost to robots. The picture for other OECD countries does not look too dissimilar, with a job reduction forecasts of 30% in the UK, 35% in Germany, and 21% in Japan.

While the main consensus amongst technologist supports the utopian view that organic economic balance will transpire, some economists believe the impact of technology is already affecting the global economy, and the social and economic impact of artificial intelligence and automation could be dramatic.

In The Second Machine Age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee point to data which indicates the start of a divergence of labor productivity and private employment which started in 2000. Essentially, while the economy is growing, due to technology jobs creation is not keeping pace.

Unlike much of the 20th century we’re now seeing a falling ratio of employment to population and that’s something that concerns us. We don’t think it’s inevitable but we do think that many of the underlying trends in technology are likely to accelerate this so it’s something we need to pay some serious attention to. ~Brynjolfsson

Impact of AI on US economy

That split manifests in other emerging gaps.  At the same time, we are seeing the widening gap in productivity and employment, there is also a growing delta between real GDP per capita and the median income per capita.

The rich are getting rich and vice versa. This is not a new trend, over the past 25-years the gap between the richest and poorest in OECD countries has continued to grow wider, but for the first time since the 1940’s, over half the total income in the United States went to the top 10 percent of Americans in 2012. This is not a phenomenon restricted to America, over the past 30 years Germany, Sweden and Finland have seen income equality grow more rapidly than the US.

Real GDP vs Median Income per capital AI impact on economy

Will AI take our jobs?

There is no doubt artificial intelligence will replace the need for many of the jobs which exist in the economy today. It’s already happening but going largely unnoticed. As the sophistication of AI increases, many jobs in transportation, manufacturing, finance, and marketing simply won’t exist anymore. While many new jobs will be created, the real question is at what scale and what cost.

Many experts, including economist John Maynard Keynes, have long held the view that we’re marching towards a period of technological unemployment. In this new reality, there will be no economic law that says you must create new jobs to maintain societal balance, therefore, it is a reality that productivity and employment data points could continue to grow apart. The net effect would be a growing divide between the rich and poor.

So on reflection to Tommer’s talk at the Data Science Breakfast, I find myself thinking that artificial intelligence offers a huge opportunity for both the economy and society, but to create the best outcome where humans and bots are fully utilised and co-creating value, the system must be designed that way. This is the job of scientists and entrepreneurs, not the domain of politicians and government.