For some, AI is a job killer. For others, it is a work improver. But like any other form of labor development since the first farmer put an ox to a plow and drove out a hundred farm workers, the impact of AI on the modern labor market will be mixed.
AI will no doubt take on many of the tasks that humans are doing right now. But whether this will lead to job losses or greater individual productivity, or both, depends on a wide variety of factors, especially how both employers and employees respond to this change.
According to a recent study by software developer InRule, nearly two-thirds of enterprise decision-makers are concerned about job security as machine learning and other forms of AI become more common. Oddly enough, this concern stems not just from losing a robot, but from a fear that AI will drive them to make poor decisions due to poor data management, lack of critical tools, and other shortcomings typically associated with a new work paradigm.
Indeed, the survey found that many top executives still harbor some myths about AI, such as the belief that it can only be used by highly trained, well-paid data scientists and engineers. There also seems to be an ongoing focus on all the ways AI will replace human labor rather than the myriad of ways it can help employees at all levels of the organization become more productive and thus more valuable.
Indeed, says Pradyut Shah. from SymphonyAI, it seems that the big problem with the deployment of AI in most industries will be a lack of workers, not too many. First, AI needs to be taught to do what needs to be done (another surprise for organizations used to software that works right out of the box), and that takes people. And while data scientists will take on much of this responsibility, it’s the lower-level employees who will actually start using the technology, primarily by automating all the dull, boring tasks that pollute their days.
Ultimately, Shah said, a successful AI implementation will deliver three key benefits. They are easy to explain to whoever uses them. They will deliver demonstrable benefits to individuals and organizations. And they will be fully interactive and flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of users.
History repeats itself
Still, it is highly likely that many low-skilled jobs will disappear as AI becomes more prevalent. In this way, however, it is just like all other forms of automation through the ages. You no longer see elevator operators, and no one rushes to fill your tank when you enter the gas station. and if Eduardo Mace from IEC Partners notes: if the past is the prologue, AI will improve the work humans do. Of workers already affected by AI, 75% say it helps them make better decisions, and many believe that humans and AI empower each other to improve the way work is done.
For these and other reasons, Mace concluded that organizations that use AI only to reduce their workforce will ultimately lose out to those who use it to improve workflows and processes.
If there’s anything that can be said about AI and jobs, it’s that technology will change the nature of work, not the need for people to perform. In a recent interview with Forbes, author and New York Times columnist Kevin Roose highlighted some of the ways humans have adapted to technological change in the past and will do so in the AI-driven future. First, he noted that few people would want to go back to the world of 200 years ago, despite the incredible feats of automation that have taken place since then. Rather than resisting AI, today’s workforce should embrace it to avoid the growing pains usually associated with these kinds of changes.
Perhaps the most important conclusion here is that the individual should not bear sole responsibility for acquiring the skills needed to thrive in the age of AI, but that employers have a vested interest in seeing this happen. Ultimately, the basic human equation doesn’t change: employers need a vibrant, productive workforce just as much as employees need a stable, profitable business.
One thing we should all recognize at this point is that the AI genie is out of the bottle and not going back in. That means people will have to adapt and adapt to whatever happens. If your idea of a job is to sit in front of a terminal all day and work your way through clicking/copying/pasting endless files, don’t expect to have that job much longer. But if you want to showcase your creative talents and find new solutions to today’s seemingly intractable problems, AI can help.