It’s Not Immigration, But AI That Will Inevitably Take Our Jobs.

aiImage Source: Gerd Leonhard/Flickr Creative Commons

In 2013, the combined wealth of the bottom half of the global population was the same as that of the world’s eight richest people. This statistic alone is enough to highlight the extreme vulnerability at the bottom of the spectrum, alongside the extent of wealth at the top.

It is generally agreed that inequality is rising, there is no shroud there. Since 2010, the number of people who sleep rough has increased by around 170%. However, there is controversy surrounding whether this trend will continue, with debaters on the left side of the political spectrum often arguing that the causes are economic policies, such as tax cuts for the rich.

More recently, an alternative argument has been put forward: technology. In 1990, the combined revenues of GM, Ford and Chrysler – often coined Detroit’s “Big 3” – was practically identical to that of Google, Apple and Facebook in 2014. However, the latter had nine times fewer employees, and were worth over 25 times more on the global stock market. Thus, companies with a heavy reliance on advancing technologies are able to spread most of their revenue to their financial investors, rather than their employees. It explains the exponential growth of tech giants in recent years.

Technology has been rewarding the educated, with old jobs being replaced by ones which require new skills. Since the 1970s, school dropouts have taken, on average, a 30% paycut. Whilst a salary rise of around 25% has been observed for those who have graduate degrees.

So what is the real priority of national job security: the curbing of immigration or our adaptation following technological automation?

Many jobs WILL be automated in the not-so-distant future. A new report has predicted that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs worldwide could be lost due to automation. Financial analysts, construction workers, farmers, taxi drivers, journalists, and even movie stars could be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Thus, it is time for us to provide career advice for our children. But what advice shouldwe give?

Generally, it is a good idea to encourage kids to pursue a career that machines are currently bad at. However, their ability to perform in these areas could quickly change following the invention of a new piece of technology. After all, computing power has been doubling every two years or so since the 1970s – an advancement directly linked to an observation referred to as Moore’s law. So, what career options should we explore?

Recent forecasts for when future jobs will be automated have identified several useful questions which we should ask before deciding to educate oneself on it. Here are some examples:

  1. Does the job require interacting with individuals on a regular basis?
  2. Does the job require you to adapt, perhaps through working in an unpredictable environment?
  3. Does the job require personal creativity? Will you need to provide clever solutions?

The more of these questions that we can answered with a yes, the better our career choices will likely be. Thus, becoming a teacher, lawyer, research scientist, doctor, social worker, artist, hairdresser, or message therapist, to name a few, are likely to be relatively safe bets. In contrast, jobs that are repetitive in nature, or utilize predictable actions in a structured setting are not likely to last long-term. Although there are some jobs that are not under immediate threat of full-extinction (such as tax accountants), they are getting the majority of their tasks automated, thus requiring far fewer humans.

But focusing on more creative career options may also become increasingly difficult. Machines will not be able to really challenge for these positions any time soon. However, they will get increasingly ruthless competition from other humans around the globe, following the advancement of technological automation.

So, as technology advances, what can our governments do to help maximize the success of individuals within the job market? Which education system best supports and prepares students for a job market where artificial intelligence keeps on improving? Should continual education be implemented as the norm for any job? Or, will AI eventually take over all jobs, resulting in all of humanity becoming unemployable?

These are all serious questions that need to be carefully considered as the strength of artificial intelligence powers on.

This piece is based on the writing of Max Tegmark, in Life 3.0. Max is a Professor of Physics at MIT. Life 3.0 was voted the Daily Telegraph and The Times book of the year, and is available on Amazon.

 Life 3.0 – Max Tegmark



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