In caused by AI, but we are

In ‘Civilization and its Discontents’,
Sigmund Freud assessed what technology has done to man by comparing him to “…A Prosthetic God. When he puts on all
his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown
onto him and they still give him much trouble at times”. Today, this can be
compared to the conjecture as to what the impact will be on the nature of
industries as artificial intelligence is applied across fields and automation
of process driven tasks increases. The news confronts us with deeply held fears
of AI and automation. Coverage often focuses on the job loss and social unrest
that are viewed as likely to follow. Managers across industries have cost
targets which justifies movement of routine tasks from man to machine. McKinsey
research (1) shows that ‘currently demonstrated technologies could
automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform and that about
60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent
activities automated, again with technologies available today’. While automation
will eradicate few occupations entirely in the short term, it will affect
portions of almost all jobs to a certain degree depending on the type of work
they demand. Automation has the potential to transform certain sectors such as
finance (to fintech), which involve a substantial share of factual work, that
can be easily programmed. A computer that gives out skilled radiology advice (3)
is one example of how jobs currently done by highly trained white-collar
workers can be automated, thanks to the advances in deep learning and other
forms of artificial intelligence. Today machines that can perform many forms of
routine manual labour, and are now able to perform some routine perceptive
tasks too.

Having said that, in a 2016 report by
the Obama administration (5), the future with AI seems to be more
optimistic. We focus a lot on the lost jobs caused by AI, but we are yet to
focus on teaching new skills, so such fatalities can be limited. The report
states that AI will in fact contribute to economic growth and will improve
standards of living if industry, society and government work together to
develop the positive aspects of the technology, manage its risks and
challenges, and ensure that everyone can help in building an AI-enhanced
society and to participate in its benefits. The report has compared the promise
of AI to the transformative impacts of advancements in mobile computing. Investments
in R&D on AI have begun reaping major benefits to the public in fields as
diverse as health care, transportation, the environment, criminal justice, and
economic inclusion. The government’s productivity is being increased as its departments
focus their capability to use AI to carry out their missions responsibly and
efficiently.

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As President Kennedy proclaimed in 1962
“If men have the talent to invent
machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back
to work”. The job I want to work in has these three characteristics which
we would all imbibe to stay economically relevant:

Prompt Adaptability. The topic of automation, jobs and the
future of work was discussed by a panel facilitated by McKinsey Global Institute
(2). Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn explains, “If you look at most of the automation, it comes down to man–machine
combinations. And all productivity means is that when you have productivity
increases, each person is doing more. And therefore, the unit—the number of
people to do this amount of work—goes down, right? But that then creates
resources for doing other work” and the ‘other work’ means that people
might need to shift skills and remain open to the possibility that their jobs
may change – in other words be more adaptable. In the movie ‘Hidden Figures’,
we see a technological transition when ‘human calculators’ are replaced by new
technology in the form of the IBM 7090. Dorothy Vaughan understood the threat
and quickly adapted herself and her team, by shifting their skills, so that
they were able to help program the IBM 7090, thereby saving their jobs. History
has proved time and again that while automation results in low costs a huge
amount of retooling to shift from the status quo to a full automation is long
and arduous whereas the people are much easier to shift. As machines work on
more human tasks, organizations and workers who flourish will not be those who understand
correctly at the next ‘in’ skills but those who cultivate the capacity of their
workers to learn faster. We need to be aware of our environment and strive to
keep up with all new tech introduced in our workplace. To become close to being
indispensable we need to continuously adapt and develop our skills in a timely
manner. Another form of adaptability is the reform of labour laws across the
board. While this should be implemented by the government and not individually,
as citizens we should jointly refuse to work in corporations which support any
archaic labour laws. Just like pineapple pizzas, these laws should be left in
the past.

‘Human’ factor. One of the most prolific dialogues
from 2017 was by a robot from Halo Ice cream’s ad by Mike Diva (6), “Everyone you love is gone”. The scene
of an elderly prisoner being force-fed ice cream by a bot overlord, as a kind
of post war olive branch, is horrifying and hilarious. As the ad pays homage to
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it also shows us why robots would
never be good caretakers (or ice cream sellers). While technology is seen to
make the case of material progress (or economic growth) it is very difficult to
measure the progress made in improving the dynamics of society. John Glenn once
supposedly said “You know, you cannot
trust something you cannot look in the eyes” – a dialogue appropriate for our
interaction with AI today. As a society we need to ask ourselves whether we
would be able to trust AI the way we trust human intervention. This issue of
trust will apply to scenarios where our life, privacy and security could
potentially be in danger – another reason why driverless cars, although a
cheaper alternative, is taking time to pick up in developed markets even with
rapid technological improvisations (10). Consumers will show more
flexibility, when convenience and possibly price are what matter the most such
as bank tellers, self-checkout counters and automated assembly lines. However, I
strongly believe that AI will drive consumers to consider not only technology but
also look for more ‘human’ traits in brands: honesty, empathy and loyalty. Many
jobs, by their very nature, require human emotion, such as caregivers, artists,
which cannot be programmed into a machine. These jobs will ensure that the
world will always have a need for compassion, empathy, trust and personality. Developing
emotional intelligence could make us indispensable as machines are too busy
learning to learn ‘work’ as compared to learning to learn ‘human’.

New Technology Entrepreneurship. Most workers need the same thing:
environments where they can engage in fulfilling work that draws out more of
their potential, which is improved by technology to perform tasks. In that
future, the rewards will be significant for both companies and their workers. In
other words, a strong entrepreneurial business climate and advanced
infrastructure position us to benefit from the economic potential of AI. The
optimists, such as Ray Kurzweil, feel that “Innovation
will do more good than harm” and that AI growth will free up resources to
produce products, services and inventions that do not exist currently. As per
an Accenture AI study (4), ‘AI has the potential to boost labour productivity
by up to 40 percent in 2035 in most of the developed countries. This rise in
labour productivity will not be driven by longer hours but by innovative
technologies enabling people to make more efficient use of their time’. To rethink
work, we must shift our focus from routine tasks to continuous innovation – not
just to constantly increase customer value over time but to discover new
technology. In the future, we must strive to be curious life-long learners who
bring purpose to work, discover new knowledge when met with unexpected
challenges and are empowered to do much more than just execute. Machine
Learning and other AI tools have opened new markets and new opportunities for
progress in critical areas such as health, energy and the environment. Even
traditional companies are cashing in all their chips with unusual partnerships
such as the China’s Baidu, Nokia and Mercedes partnership (7). Focus
on completely new technologies, such as ‘Planetary Resources’ (9) Investors:
Larry Page, Richard Branson, Ross Perot; The technology currently being
developed to mine asteroids can reduce the cost of collaborating, detecting and
navigating in space to enhance resource efficiency on Earth, will ensure
organizations stay relevant in today’s dynamic and challenging environment.

Yogi Berra once said, “The
future isn’t what it used to be”.  What he implied was that the future is
uncertain, and humans have an intense repugnance to uncertainty. This
uncertainty has been seen from the Industrial Revolution which disrupted
certain kinds of labour (despite not reducing the overall demand for labour) to
today’s fear for robots and other forms of AI such as Mind Reading Technology (8)
Investors: Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk; Facebook is working on a non-invasive
system that will allow you to type 100 words per minute using brain waves. Mark
Zuckerberg believes that this technology “will
let you communicate using only your mind”. While it is a fact that
existing jobs might not be present in a few years it is also difficult to
predict any new jobs as they are in industries that conceptually don’t exist
yet.

Organizations and governments need to highlight
how AI can, initially, affect the workforce disproportionality but eventually,
majorly result in tangible benefits such as eliminating climate change, ease of
access to healthcare and on a more personal front, improve the quality of work
thereby making it more interesting, increasing job satisfaction levels. Overall,
AI is expected to unleash remarkable benefits across borders, countering dismal
economic growth prospects to turn economies to a new golden period of long-lasting
economic growth. However, once all has been said and done, about AI, we need to
ask ourselves, ‘What will we do with our time?’, ‘Does life have meaning beyond
work?’ and ‘What do we turn our attention to, to feel more relevant?’ 

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