The Future of Jobs and AI
The impact AI will have upon employment is a widespread topic of discussion in the popular, technical, and industry press as well as among employers, employees, and thought leaders.
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The question I am asked in almost every internal and external presentation attended by more than a handful of people is, "How many and what type of jobs will be eliminated by AI?"
In July 2019, Amazon announced that it was devoting $700 million to coaching around 100k workers in the United States, thus enabling them to switch to jobs that required higher skills. According to the New York Times, Amazon is indicating that the developments in AI will cover several tasks that are currently performed manually.
The first few times I was asked this question, I brushed it off with a brief answer, assuming that it was a passing curiosity by the person asking the question, and that there was no real concern or emotion behind the inquiry. I was wrong in that regard.
This question is on the minds of many people and it is weighing on them as a real concern. In the past year, I have been asked the same or similar questions in presentations and discussions in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States.
Rather than continuing to brush aside the question, I have started answering it with one of the many studies that have proven, again and again, that AI and related technologies and systems are net job creators in the short and long term. Let's examine a few of those recent studies.
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AI Is an Engine of Job Creation
One of the relevant studies is from the World Economic Forum's
Centre for the New Economy and Society, The Future of Jobs Report, 2018. The report includes research and findings that illuminate and explain the detailed job changes that are expected to be seen, country by country, on a global basis. The report suggests that the new jobs created will be significantly larger in number than those eliminated, and those new jobs will be higher paying and have a more secure future:
"A 2018 report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) even suggested that, while we may displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022, we'll create a net positive of 133 million new ones. The WEF believes — with the current data in mind — that robots and algorithms will improve the productivity of existing jobs and create several new ones in the future. Perhaps future workers won't get a job — they'll create their own. No amount of angry hand waving or puerile legislation can stop this. We cannot even begin to fathom some of the otherworldly technologies and new career fields that'll one day arise."
I have experienced this exact dynamic in the workplace. In one instance, people were hired to execute a rather dull and rote process in the finance department to move data from one system to another. The people hired were young, smart, eager, and willing to learn. They discovered that the organization had licensed robotic process automation (RPA) software.
The young staff members took it upon themselves to learn the software and become proficient in automating the repetitive processes, thereby eliminating the jobs that they were hired to do. Did they lose their jobs? Yes. Did the company recognize their initiative and talent? Yes. What do they do now? They automate manual processes across the company.
Now, the company has fewer openings, and no-entry level staff members to execute manual data movement, but the firm now also has a number of open positions around the world for entry-level staff members to build automated data movement processes in RPA software. Previously, the data entry roles were lower-paying, dead-end jobs with few to no development paths or planned ways to move up in the organization. Now, the jobs are entry-level analyst roles with higher pay and a planned path to a better job and an explicit development plan.
I am aware that the previous example is not an AI case, but many organizations cannot grasp the leap to AI without taking an easier first step in an area like process automation.
As a manager or executive who is interested in and wants to drive change, you must be aware of the ability of your organization to understand, enact, fund, and assimilate change. You may want the organization to begin operating as a top tier firm in relation to advanced analytics and AI, but the organization may be run by fast followers, laggards, or even worse, Luddites.
Keep in mind and look closely at the people who are the senior executives in the firm; how did they get to their positions and how long have they been in the firm? More than likely, they will be the gating factor in how quickly the organization changes and how the organization changes.
I am betting that once you take a close look at these people, you may want to recalibrate your ambitions regarding the timeline to achieve success with AI and related technologies.
Many Jobs Will Never Be Changed By AI
Numerous people ask me if there are any jobs that will not be automated out of existence by AI. Rather than asking this question, I think it is more insightful and helpful to ask, "Why are there so many jobs today that have not been automated away?"
The essence of the problem can be found in Polanyi's Paradox. Michael Polanyi, a British-Hungarian philosopher, stated, "We can know more than we can tell, we shouldn't assume that technology can replicate the function of human knowledge itself."
We, humans, operate on and with a substantial amount of tacit knowledge that we have a very difficult time expressing to other people. One of the core elements of automating a task or replacing a person with AI is that we need to understand and describe what the job entails at a sufficiently detailed level, in order to replicate the job with automation tools and/or with AI. Without this ability, we cannot automate the task and we certainly cannot expect AI to undertake the work. One timely example can be summed up as, just because a computer can know everything there is to know about a car, it doesn't mean it can drive it.
In late 2019, Rob May posited a related idea. Advanced analytics will create whole new industries, or at least sub segments of industries, where people who can afford the services will seek out human- curated goods and services that have a high degree of creativity and customization. These services and goods will be sought after because they contain an element of elegance or personalization that is only possible through the involvement of human thought, expression, and craftsmanship.
Regarding the jobs created in the aforementioned category, there will not be a significant number of jobs that will move the employment numbers in any one country, and there is no hard data to back up this claim, but I do believe that May is correct in his core assertion. AI will not create deeply personal experiences.
AI will predict outcomes and it will make operations more effective and efficient, but it will not deepen most, if any, experiences for people. The lesson to learn from this example is that there are several market segments that will be created for industrious people. With these, they will serve firms and individuals in ways that are made more valuable by being in opposition to the mass change created by AI.
These types of jobs and businesses will be small, but the prestige and expense of engaging with these firms will be extremely high. These firms and offerings will be the opposite of Amazon, Walmart, and other firms that operate high-velocity, low-margin businesses. The offerings from these companies will be deeply personal, highly connected, coveted, limited, and very expensive.
It can be concluded then that though Artificial intelligence has the potential to eliminate millions of current jobs, it is also poised to create millions of new ones — some of which haven't been invented yet. Master the skills necessary to hire and manage a team of highly skilled individuals to design, build, and implement applications and systems based on advanced analytics and AI with Building Analytics Teams.
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