You’ve, no doubt, heard all the talk about robots taking over our jobs, especially following the Oxford University report that stated that 47% of all jobs are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence within the next 20 years. This has, understandably, put fear into many people, but is this fear justified?
Professor Toby Walsh is one of the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence. In his presentation, What AI can (and can’t) do, which he gave as part of Florence Guild’s speaker series, ‘The Antidisciplinary Future’, Professor Walsh stated that he believes the Oxford report claims are, “Rubbish”. There is a lot more to it than that.
Robots can only do what they are programmed to do. Although machine learning is already possible, they have a long way to go before they can match the complex learning ability of the human mind.
Will AI take my job?
Probably. Some sooner than others. It’s already happening with jobs that involve low cognitive skills and lots of repetition. As AI speed and functionality improve, there will be less of these jobs around. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have a job. It’s more likely to mean that the nature of your job will change, and you will be able to spend your time doing tasks that robots are nowhere near being able to do.
That’s partly because robots aren’t good at multi-tasking or making judgement calls. Maybe they can perform a series of related tasks, but not something radically different, such as drive a car and decide to hire or fire someone at the same time.
Many jobs will evolve rather than disappear. Journalists, for example, won’t be bogged down with sports or financial reports. Instead, they’ll be able to focus on more original and insightful work. Creative, non-menial jobs that involve social and emotional intelligence will be around for many years yet.
Will AI take my children’s jobs?
Well, yes and no, depending on how you look at it. If you’re expecting that your child will go to uni and become an accountant, or lawyer, then yes. These jobs are already well on the way to becoming redundant – in their current form. However, taking out the repetitive aspects of jobs like these is already leading to new opportunities in consultancy work, for example. People want to deal with people when it comes to getting advice or building strategic partnerships, so many accountants are shifting across into this area.
There are two other factors to consider here. Firstly. most of the jobs that will be around in 20 years’ time have not even been conceived yet. There will always be jobs, we just don’t know what they will involve other than that they will constantly evolve. Therefore, your children will need to know how to keep adapting to new jobs. We already know that today’s school-leavers will have an average of 17 different jobs in their lifetime, and that’s a good thing. They’ll be continuously building on their skills which will lead them in all sorts of interesting directions.
The other factor is that you’re presuming they will need to go to uni in the first place. Technology is changing the very nature of education so much that most formal learning will take place online and will be done in short bursts as needed. The social aspects of education will take place in other ways.
So, your children will be safe, but if your job’s future is looking doubtful, where does that leave you now? The answer to that lies in your mindset. If you believe that you are too old to learn something new, or that you are ‘not good on computers’, then you’ll need to do some serious thinking around how well these beliefs still serve you. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it is something you will probably need to consider at some point soon.
You won’t be the only one in that boat, though. There are already many services and resources around to help people in your position re-train, so take advantage of them. Look for things like community-based computer literacy courses, online courses such as those offered by Udemy, or book an appointment with a career counsellor or coach. As Professor Walsh said in his presentation, “The future is not fixed … The future is a product of the decisions we, as a society, make today. We get to choose the future we want to live in.” What choices are you prepared to make?
‘The Antidisciplinary Future’ series narrative explores how we can look outside traditional disciplines to find better ways to live and work now and in the future. To hear more of Toby’s insights on ‘What AI can (and can’t) do’, tune in to episode 10 of our podcast. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.