a neon sign that says "Data has a better idea" with window view of city overhead
PHOTO: Franki Chamaki

In 2015, 65 percent of Americans believed robots and computers would take over most of the work in the next 50 years. Only two years later, that number dropped to 13 percent. Americans are clearly becoming more comfortable with the idea of automation in the workplace, but new advances in artificial intelligence (AI) continue to raise questions about what impact it will have on future jobs. 

The AI Explosion

New application for artificial intelligence (AI) are popping up all over, and many of us don’t even realize they’re there. Technology, from email spam filters to digital personal assistants, like Siri or Alexa, use AI. More advanced uses of AI are starting to take over jobs that once required human intelligence.

When IBM Watson beat human Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings in 2011, it gave us a sense of what was to come. Watson went on to help personalize cancer treatment plans by analyzing patient history, genetics and research evidence and also helped analyze runway looks at New York Fashion Week in 2017, picking out the colors and patterns that were most likely to be in demand.

New applications for AI are threatening to take over human jobs in unexpected areas. The Associated Press publishes AI-generated corporate earnings reports, with occasional polishing from human journalists. New developments like driverless cars and drone-delivery systems may take over jobs in the transportation industry. And chatbots handle increasingly complex tasks from helping customers through an online check-out process to answering customer-service questions.

So what does this mean for people's jobs? Experts have been anticipating the rise of automation for decades, though some hold more hope for our future than others. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a future of “technological unemployment” which he believed would reduce human labor to a 15-hour work week. Whether that loss of work will benefit us is yet to be seen.

Related Article: How to Survive When the Robots Come For Your Job

A History of Technology Changing Work

The panic over job loss does have precedent. In the 1960s, robotics were first introduced to industrial manufacturing, prompting many to worry their jobs would be replaced. But the robotics revolution made slow progress, and employment in manufacturing continued to rise over the next two decades.

In the 1980s, personal computers became widely available. Experts predicted they would lead to a decline in office administration jobs, but the effects weren’t seen until 10 years later. It wasn’t until the Great Recession, and the recent rise of freelancers and work-from-home positions that the effects of this technology took full force.

Just as the Industrial Revolution led workers to migrate to cities, and eventually to demand a 40-hour workweek, the AI Revolution will change the nature of work. But this change is likely to be slower than we anticipate. Today’s cutting edge tech will take years to show an effect on the workforce as a whole.

Related Article: Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Digital Workplace

Learning to Live With AI

Whatever the influence AI has on our jobs, it’s unlikely to take over human work altogether. The most likely outcome will be for human and AI to work alongside one another, with some tasks delegated to each. We’ll get the greatest benefits from AI when use it to augment human intelligence.

AI: Will the Future Be Free
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