Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe?

Is anyone else feeling extremely laid back about the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence?

It’s not a biggie really, is it? Nothing to fuss about. The media is fussing about it, but the media  are always fussing about something or other, aren’t they? No one needs to worry. I’m not worried: I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s all going to be fine.

Just to bring those of you who’ve been chilling in an underground bunker for the last few years up to speed, here’s the gist of what seems to be going down with AI:

  • AI is going to consume the job market.
  • AI is going to consume the job market at warp speed.
  • AI will proceed to be far better at doing human jobs than any of us ever have been or ever will be.

Fair enough, I guess. Us fleshy, weepy, invariably error-prone mortals do seem like strikingly weak contenders in contrast. And we can laugh it off, can’t we? Perhaps at a pitch that’s just a notch too high to be convincing, but we can laugh it off all the same. It’s all just a great big laugh. Or not a big deal at all. One of the two.

I suppose, if I was really pressed on the topic – if someone was to scream in my face, lightly showering me with spit, that sort of thing – there are just some mild reservations I could hazard. Nothing major, mind. Just a few passing qualms like:

  • WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
  • IS THIS THE END?
  • SHOULD WE CRY?

But no – no – it’s fine. It is fine. Let’s take a collective deep breath. We are going to stay CALM. Repeat after me: you are floating peacefully on a lilo in the centre of a big, turquoise pool. You are smugly clasping a fruity, boozy cocktail ft. a tiny umbrella. You are safe here. The robots can’t take your job here. Your job here is to relax.

The thing about AI taking over our jobs is… it looks like it might actually be fine? Maybe even… better than fine?

I won’t pretend the statistics aren’t intimidating. The fact for instance, that more than half the workforce will need reskilling in the next 5 years as a direct result of AI is more than a little disturbing. But let’s take a firm minute to note that ‘reskilling’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘replacing’. AI looks as if it’s actually teed up to take over the kind of routine, low-skill jobs that not too many of us want to be doing anyway. You know; the sort of roles that are at first brightly described as, “quite easy, actually,” before the charm wears off and they’re replaced with phrases like, “totally f*****g mind-numbing,” or, “completely and utterly soul-destroying.” Really, it’s the exact sort of repetitive, unstimulating work which makes people feel like a cog in a machine that the machines will be taking over. Which is good, isn’t it? No one wants to be a cog.

75 million jobs are estimated to be displaced globally by AI by 2022. But 133 million jobs are estimated to be created as a result of AI by 2022 – which will result in a global net increase of around 58 million roles. Not bad stats there, really. Not bad at all.

Just to quickly dismantle the next flurry of fears (I’m way ahead of you) – these fresh new jobs are also not meant to be exclusively techy. We’re not all doomed to become IT gurus and machine operators. Granted, demand for advanced IT skills are expected to grow by as much as 90% between 2016 and 2030, and the need for basic digital skills is expected to grow by as much as 69%. But there’s also going to be an estimated 26% increase in demand for social and emotional skills, 33% for entrepreneurship, and 19% for creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing. In many respects, it appears as if this gigantic shift in labour trends could ultimately pave the way for more high-skill, varied, and innovative roles than what we’re familiar with in the here and now.

What I’m saying, guys, is this: we’re not really on the cusp of being booted out the workforce forevermore. The future, as ever, is a little blurry, but trust me when I say that it appears more bright than bleak. Whether AI will open the doors for you to utilise your soft skills, put your leadership abilities into practice, draw on your digital know-how, or flex your creative genius, one thing is for sure: being human certainly won’t stand you in bad stead for whatever happens next.

Credit: Clare Toner

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