Automation Is Changing the Way We Work

By: Tania Brooks on January 19th, 2018

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Automation Is Changing the Way We Work

Automation  |  Machine Learning  |  Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is changing the way we do everything. As we look ahead, self-driving cars, hyper-intelligent predictive software, and self-improving robots seem possible.

As AI progresses at a rapid pace, incremental changes in the capability of computer programs change how we interact with the world, the internet, and each other. Already, AI is integrated into our daily lives, from automated suggestions from Amazon based on products we’ve purchased in the best, to automatic email sorting by Gmail.

Automation is claiming jobs. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost due to automation. Thousands more have been claimed in finance due to the automation of the stock market. Indeed, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, predicts that self-driving software will push out 15% of the world’s workforce.

A recent Oxford study paints an even drearier picture, one where 47% of total US employment is at risk for automation in the coming decade. The study goes on to elucidate their findings: jobs with a great deal of rote memorization and routine work are at risk for elimination.

“Our model predicts that most workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk,” the Oxford study reads. “These findings are consistent with recent technological developments.”

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Jobs that require a great deal of common sense, creative thinking, and social intelligence, on the other hand, will require human workers, according to the study. At present, replicating social intelligence has proven too difficult.

“Doctors and lawyers are much easier to automate than street sweepers,” Pedro Domingos, professor of computer science at the University of Washington, explained in an interview with National Geographic.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, AI is more adept at mimicking the mental minutiae of professions rather than physical labor, according to Domingos.

“If a job involves routine mental work, and in many ways medical diagnosis is routine work, it is easily automated,” Domingos continued. “Jobs that require a lot of common sense are also very hard to automate. Common sense is something we human beings take for granted, but is extremely difficult for machines to acquire.”

Plenty will change at work due to the rise of machine learning. Doubtless, there will be shifts, some unwelcome, some welcome. The loss of jobs is an immediate threat to the economy, but it is also an opportunity for job growth, expansion, and redefinition.

“People are racing against the machine and many of them are losing the race,” Iyad Rahwan from the MIT media lab said at EmTech in his presentation about AI and the future of work. “The answer is not to try to slow down technology. We need to race with the machine.”

Disruptions in the workplace due to AI are inevitable, but we can help direct change in a positive direction. Ideally, artificial intelligence could be used to produce more efficient workflows, assist managers in analyzing team performance, and help support gaps in each team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between.

“The core AI principle that guides us at this stage is: How do we bet on humans and enhance their capability?” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, told WSJ Magazine. “There are still a lot of design decisions that get made, even in a self-learning system, that humans can be accountable for.”

Can we bet on humans in the face of the future of AI? Will humans, AI, and work live together in harmony? At present, it is possible. With the help of automation, workers are able to free themselves from the mundane, the routine, and the inconvenient. We have the ability to absorb more, analyze more, and optimize more.

Artificial intelligence is reshaping how we interact with data, how we manage our daily lives, and how productive we are. However, there is also a dark side to automation; thousands of jobs have been claimed due to computerization. Doubtless, more will be claimed as smart software becomes more sophisticated.


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About Tania Brooks

Tania Brooks is a business journalist with a focus on emerging technologies and emerging markets. She used to work as an overseas operations coordinator for Unilever. You may contact her on Twitter.