AI, after having had many false starts, is progressing on its true journey since last couple of years. It’s still in the nascent stage but recent news from Accenture (where they re-deployed 17,000 people due to automation) and Infosys (where they re-deployed 9,000 for similar reasons) shows that it has far reaching impact on the society – more importantly, on the jobs. Re-deployment is possible when the numbers are small but as the wave of Artificial Intelligence builds up, we are bound to see a huge number of job losses in the World.

World Economic Forum report predicts loss of 5 million jobs by 2020 due to automation

Other research reports predict more than 50% of existing jobs to be eliminated by 2025. In a recent social survey, many people expected Artificial Intelligence to eliminate 80% of the jobs that they are aware of. However, when asked about their own job, less than 20% of the people felt that their job is at risk. Are we being true to ourselves? Is your job at risk from Artificial Intelligence? What impact does AI have on future of society and education?

‘Deep Learning’ is the new technique (emerged with better understanding of brain architecture) that created an impetus to Artificial Intelligence. This technique powers Google Search Engine, Amazon Go, Apple Siri, Tesla self driving cars and many others. While Artificial Intelligence can have a positive impact on our lives, it does raise the machinery question that has been first asked 200 years ago (does it lead to elimination of jobs?). This question has been asked during mechanisation of agriculture and has been asked once again, during Industrial Revolution. In both these instances, fears expressed by the people were proven wrong as more jobs have been created, than eliminated. Experts feel it would be the same case this time too. I beg to differ.

Every time we were faced with the threat of job elimination, we humans have evolved ourselves to next stage. When mechanisation happened, we moved up to do skilled jobs. When Industrial revolution happened, we moved up to do knowledge jobs. Now, machines are catching up and are ready to perform knowledge jobs. Unfortunately, unlike the last two times, we do not have next stage to evolve into, and therein lies the risk. Most jobs (predominantly left-brained) are going to be automated. Two distinct examples – teaching jobs will be reduced (machines, by leveraging virtual/augmented reality, will train students better than a human being) – one obvious exception will be teachers who teach ethics or organisation behaviour classes – I personally do not think that could be automated. Similarly, Surgeons jobs will get automated, where machines will do efficient and effective surgeries than human beings (to make patient feel better, we may have a doctor present along)

So, what kind of jobs are safe from AI? Machines have a long way to reach emotional/social state (Human Relations, Social skills) and state of conscious. Such jobs will not get eliminated. Examples are Psychologists, Lawyers (paralegal jobs will get eliminated as machines could do that work but lawyers are still required to argue in front of the judges. Now, judges jobs will not get automated as I do not think we will be ready to let machines judge humans), Spiritual jobs and so on. Jobs with predominant right-brain usage like Poetry, Music, Painting etc will continue to exist, and even flourish.

What does this do to society? Social inequality gets far worse – difference between have and have-not increases (more importantly, number of have-not will increase) and this leads to social unrest. Governments will start talking about universal basic income where every citizen will start getting a standard pay from the government irrespective of their status. Finland has started a pilot effective January 2017; Scotland is considering a pilot. There will be significant debate on what this does to people – make them more lazy or make them more risk-taking. Incidentally, Switzerland rejected a recent referendum on universal basic income. Given significant unemployment in society, it impacts lifestyles of people and many, who committed themselves to long term liabilities, will face serious issues. It will also have far reaching consequences on sectors like Real Estate. People need to get constantly re-skilled and this requires whole education and training process to be re-visited.

With such dramatic changes happening, are we preparing well for the future?

  • We are yet to discuss in this post on possibility of singularity (where Artificial Intelligent machines surpass human intelligence) and challenge of teaching ethics to these machines. Ethics, that we ourselves do not understand – though we teach them to our children – through experiential process. These are major topics of discussion and I’ll cover them in separate posts
  • What society will we be living in? Humans who have been dominant on this planet because of our cognitive skills, now need to share the planet with another species that we ourselves created – maybe with equal or better cognitive skills. Will this co-existence be peaceful?
  • What education are we giving to our children? Most skills that we are building in our children may not be required by the time they grow up. So, what should we be teaching them?
  • Today, jobs mean more to people than making money. They create an identity for people. When jobs go away, people will struggle with their identity – what identity should they assume? There will be significant demand for psychologists and spiritual gurus.
  • Decision making is critical component that allows us to have control of our own life – even simple decisions like when will I order groceries and at what speed will I drive my car. As AI machines start making decisions for us (to better serve us), people will start experiencing loss of control of their own lives and feel more like machines – wouldn’t that be irony?

With the advent of highly digital world, one sector that will thrive and create jobs (atleast some) is Agriculture. Given the expected increase of world population from 7 Billion to 9 Billion by 2030 and challenges in producing required food due to climatic changes, most people will venture into Agriculture – and that to me, is circle of life. Humans have started their journey with Agriculture and will in future, head back to it – completing circle of life. This post raises more questions than answers but we need to be better glued to the evolution of AI to get answers ahead of time – we do not have them today.

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