The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dominating the discussion space in all media, and has also been a subject for serious disagreements between AI pessimists and optimists across the world. In the Silicon Valley these groups belong to two camps -The Elon Musk group vs. the Mark Zuckerberg group. The ongoing debate is all about “If AI is beneficial to the society at large?” I completely endorse Elon Musk’s school of thought that AI research should be regulated and see a big risk of “AI taking over most jobs!”.
Now coming to AI’s definitional issues and its capabilities.
There is a huge segment of companies that misuse or abuse the term AI, and make grand claims for their technology being AI driven, while muddying any real value in a haze of marketing exaggeration.
So let us get to defining Artificial Intelligence first. The most simple and useful definition of AI I found was from the Oxford English dictionary, which states that AI is “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages”.
And what is AI capable of… Andrew Ng, the AI rock star from Silicon Valley states, “Anything that a typical human can do with at most 1 sec of thought, can probably now or soon be automated with AI.”
So how is AI any different from Machine Learning?
AI is no different from Machine Learning! As the graphic below from Nvidia explains. I can’t put any better than Nvidia blog, “The easiest way to think of their relationship is to visualize them as concentric circles with AI — the idea that came first — the largest, then machine learning — which blossomed later, and finally deep learning — which is driving today’s AI explosion — fitting inside both”.
Source of the image: https://nvidia.com
There is no doubt that AI will have great impact on the way we do business and take decisions. New business models will emerge that will allow us do things that we never thought possible before. And yes, it will also displace humans leading to job losses across various sectors.
So What Kind of Jobs are at Risk?
The Moravec’s Paradox:
One of the many interesting discoveries scientists and researchers made about artificial intelligence is called “Moravec’s Paradox”. Moravec’s paradox is the discovery by artificial intelligence and robotics researchers that, contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. This principle was articulated in the early 1980’s by AI scientists Hans Moravec, Rodney Brooks, and Marvin Minsky. Moravec states, “it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”
Basically it means that, while people might imagine that AI driven automation will mainly replace manual labour which is not intellectually demanding, the reality is that the opposite is true: AI driven automation, is much more suited to intellectually demanding tasks.
Put another way, if you wanted to beat chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, you would choose a computer. If you wanted to clean the chess pieces after the game, you would choose a human being.
In the modern economy, Moravec’s paradox will have a big impact on the labour market. Ironically, the jobs that are prized (high-salary jobs) tend to be the ones that involve skills such as logic and math. And those that are less rewarded tend to involve mobility and perception. AI finds logic easy but mobility and perception difficult. So, the jobs that require skills like logic and algebra can be replaced easily. On the other hand, AI cannot easily replicate those that rely on deeply evolved human skills like mobility and perception. The former come in the category of middle-income, and the latter low-income jobs.
Put in plain terms, the ones who can read my blog, their jobs are at threat :-). A house-maid who sweeps and mops floor, cleans the vessels and folds the clothes, gets paid $150/month (if you are in India, but not significantly more in other parts of the world). To make a single robot do all of these activities at human level, though possible in the near future, may not be worth the cost, for three reasons.
a) There is no money to be made in displacing low cost labour.
b) Once the high cost labour is displaced, they will join the ranks of low cost labour, further depressing the wages of low cost labour. And,
c) With the increasing inequality created by this technical/intangibles driven economy, the rich may prefer human labour. And this is the sad part (:.
Technology may permit utopia, but hard economics may say it is not worth it!
So, if you are in the kind of job that entails looking at spreadsheets, crunching numbers and taking data-driven decisions, then your middle/high-income job is at the crosshairs of AI. Sadly, this way I may lose the person who reads my blog during office hours. Will I gain a person who reads my blog full-time from home?
In summary, what is easy for humans is difficult for robots and vice-versa! It is not the computational effort, but the variety and variability involved in mobility and perception makes it difficult to automate. So, after all being jack of all trades instead of master of none has turned out to be better strategy to maintaining economic relevance in the age of AI.
Creative Jobs- Are they safe from AI Attack!
What about those engaged in creative jobs? Will AI replace those too? A big YES! IBM says that by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. So, if a chatbot can replace a call centre executive handling humans in real-time, then passive creative activities like writing are not immune.
Franklin Foer in this book “World without Mind- the Existential Threat of Big Tech” argues that in the coming days algorithms will replicate the process of creativity, and there will be little reason to nurture human creativity. He says “The lengthy, complex and inefficient process of writing or painting can be done away with when a machine can produce something seemingly as good and in a painless flash. So, why cultivate the overinflated market for high culture, when it could be so abundant and cheap (with machines)? No human endeavour has resisted automation, so why should creative endeavours be any different?”
My Final thoughts.. AI driven advancements are inevitable! If there is utopia at the end of the tunnel, then it is great for all of us. But, let us prepare for the worse and diversify our skills sets to delay if not avoid the inevitable.