Many studies by various respected institutions around the world, speak now of a looming threat to our jobs in the future: artificial intelligence and automation.
The gloomy picture being painted which you may have encountered already, is that drivers will be out of work due to driverless cars, some cashiers will lose their jobs to machines running skilled computer software, and some computers will be better accountants than humans.
How seriously should you take this warning? Well, the answer is … a little serious at the very least. It’s true that many of such projections into the future and the issue of job losses to automation, are a bit alarmist and a bit unrealistic. But you shouldn’t brush them off.
Some people delude themselves into thinking that in the future, automation will mean humans will be free to live with little work to do. But automation simply means there’ll be unemployment! The reality is that in a world ruled by corporate profits, workers who get themselves replaced by artificial intelligence – especially those without other skills – could find themselves at risk of poverty and starvation.
Imagine that cashier lady at the grocery store. Now imagine a “cashier machine” which works faster, makes less mistakes per day, doesn’t get ‘tired’, doesn’t call in ‘sick’, uses only a little electricity and doesn’t need a monthly salary. That young woman will have to go home and go look for another job so that the store can make more profit for its shareholders. And no way; the grocery store is not going to send her food!
Let’s take driverless cars too for example. Companies like Tesla, Google and Audi are making them while researching the technology further. It will be quite some years before driverless cars really come to the party and become common on the streets but you can be sure that they will cause a disturbance when they come.
In May 2016 when a Tesla car driving on autopilot got into a fatal accident, the company said that it was the first fatality recorded in 130 million miles of its autopilot driving in many countries around the world. The company further said that there is a fatality every 94 million miles driven for all cars in the USA, and a fatality for about every 60 million miles driven globally.
When they fully arrive, will driverless cars get into less accidents than humans? Very likely. Does that have implications for truck driving, taxi driving and driving jobs in general? Yes.
Now while jobs that require minimal skill such as drivers, cashiers, construction workers, warehouse workers and toll booth attendants are often cited as those that are highly at risk, some skilled professionals could also be at risk. Could a computer software be a better accountant than a human being? The answer is Yes!
Recently, it emerged that a Google program called AlphaZero used just four hours to learn and even exceed all the human knowledge that had been accumulated over the past centuries, about the strategy board game chess. AlphaZero used just four hours to become the latest and the best chess champion in the world! Can AlphaZero be taught to do other things? Possibly.
AlphaZero’s was made from AlphaGo Zero, another software which is the world champion of a complex Asian board game called Go. So in essence, the software world champion of Go was reprogrammed and instructed to learn chess. It ended up becoming the new world chess champion in just four hours. No one knows what this software will be programmed to learn next and what miracle artificial intelligence is going to pull next.
So what’re your skills? Now would be a good time to start acquiring some other skills if you’re making a living off a job that is at high risk of automation.