The writer argues that artificial intelligence will steal our jobs – and it may be the best thing that will ever happen to us.
We are living on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution argued Klaus Schwab, the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, recently. Like the revolutions of the past – from steam engine to electricity and digitalization, the coming earthquake will fundamentally alter the way we work.
The supreme commander of the incoming revolution is artificial intelligence.
Two aspects differentiate the coming tsunami from the past ones. The first one is pace. According to a study made at the University of Oxford, 47 % of the current jobs will disappear during the next two decades – and this study was made three years ago. Less than two decades means that the change will most likely happen during your lifetime. It certainly will happen before I am even close to retiring. The second one is scope. You can pretty much flip a coin, when trying to predict, whether your job will be at risk or not.
For a long time it has been understood that technology will destroy routine-type of work. Assembly lines and warehouses have already been automated. Soon trucks and lorries will drive themselves. What has not been widely understood, however, is that the change will also reach white-collar work. As the authors of the book The Future of Professions, Richard and Daniel Susskind, claim, typical white-collar occupations such as a doctor, a lawyer, and a teacher are at risk. Artificial intelligence can analyse large quantities of medical research data in a fraction of a time, compared to a human, thus making extremely accurate diagnoses. Drafting of a contract, in turn, can be automated. Computers can also grade exam answers and disseminate information.
If this will really happen, what is left for us humans to do?
One major task left for us meat bags will be defining the problems. No matter how efficient computers will become, humans will always be needed to ask the right questions – otherwise artificial intelligence could become our biggest existential threat, as Elon Musk has argued.
Another responsibility that is difficult to outsource is empathy. Ability to empathize will become the single most important currency on the job markets. The most important duty of a doctor will soon be listening to the patient and their families, instead of making the diagnosis. Teachers, in turn, will become more like coaches who motivate and support their pupils on their path of learning. Lawyers will reinvent themselves to be more like philosophers who ponder the ethics of things.
When thought in this regard, artificial intelligence may be the best thing that will ever happen to us. We will become more like the free men of ancient Greece. Dull work will be a thing of the past, and we will have more time for each other and our thoughts. All this begs a question however: are we ready to embrace this change?
Check out also our keynote speaker Jussi Westergren, whose interests lie in the fields of theory and simulation of complex socio-economic systems.
The writer, Elia Elenius, is a social scientist and a Community Manager at SHIFT
Follow Elia on Twitter @EliaElenius