"Artificial intelligence is coming for your job." That's been the mantra of skeptics, naysayers, and even pragmatic analysts for years. A quick Google search will yield dozens, if not hundreds, of articles, such as this Mother Jones article by columnist Kevin Drum, on how the expansion of AI and robotics is going to radically shift the job market for the worse as we offload tasks, such as assembly and even driving and customer service, normally performed by humans to machines.
The idea isn't fringe. Even Bill Gates and politicians in the European Union have voiced concerns over AI contributing to mass unemployment and suggested that perhaps the robots that replace humans should be taxed as a means of funding universal basic income.
Proponents of AI will tell workers not to worry, that AI is only going to augment their job, or better yet, take over their menial, repetitive job so that they can move on to a more complex (and assumed more rewarding) position.
But a recent study by technology consulting group, Capgemini, suggests that not only is AI not destroying jobs, it is actually creating them.
For its study, “Turning AI into concrete value,” Capgemini surveyed 993 companies with revenues of more than $500 million that are implementing AI as a pilot project or “at scale,” meaning across business units, functions, or geographies. The companies covered seven sectors: telecom, retail, banking, utilities, insurances, automotive, and manufacturing; and nine countries: US, UK, India, Australia, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and Netherlands. The largest proportion of respondents (24%) came from banking. Retail came second at 19% and manufacturing and automotive represented 10% and 5% of respondents respectively. Perhaps tellingly, the majority (33%) of respondents were chief executive officers.
Capgemini found that 83% of respondents reported that new jobs had been created as a result of AI implementation. Forty-one percent of those jobs were at the manager level, with the rest being staff members (15%), coordinators (18%), directors (19%), and c-suite executives (7%). Of the respondents who had implemented AI at scale, 63% reported that AI had not destroyed jobs in their organization.
Companies surveyed also believed AI would allow employees to do more with their time. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they are proactively training and re-training employees in anticipation of AI investments. Of the companies that have implemented AI at scale, 89% told Capgemini that they believe AI will make complex jobs easier and 88% believe that intelligent machines will coexist with their human workers.
Capgemini's results fall in line with a similar prediction by Gartner earlier this month at its annual symposium. According to analysts at Gartner, by the year 2020 AI will have eliminated 1.8 million jobs, but it will have created 2.3 million jobs, making it a net job creator. Gartner has not released any information regarding exactly how it came to this conclusion, but released at statement in its findings saying,” Net job creation or elimination will vary greatly by industry; some industries will experience overall job loss, some industries will experience net job loss for only a few years; and some industries, such as healthcare and education, will never experience net job loss. AI will improve the productivity of many jobs, and, used creatively, it has the potential to enrich people's careers, reimagine old tasks and create new industries.”
The use cases to support these claims are already emerging. Automation company Siemens, for example, has pointed to a neural network-based AI that it uses to optimize the combustion process in its gas turbines. Siemens reported that the AI was able to improve emission performance of the turbines by 20%. Harley Davidson reportedly increased its sales leads by 2,930% by using AI for targeted marketing. And Dutch airline KLM has reported a 35% increase in customer service efficiency by implementing an “AI-assisted human agent model,” in which AI interprets a conversation over instant message and can suggest a response for a human agent or respond itself via email or Twitter.
Has this potential for job creation and augmentation affect the public opinion of AI in any way? According to another recent study done by Conversica Americans at least are looking more positively on AI these days. Conversica, a company that creates AI assistants for sales and marketing too an online poll of 1,000 Americans over the age of 18 about their views on AI and its impact on their professional and personal lives. Of the respondents 52% actually said they would want an AI assistant to help them at work.
Not surprisingly, age was a factor in willingness to accept AI. Sixty-one percent of those identified as millennials (18-34 years old) welcomed the idea of AI assistants while 50% of baby boomers (age 55-64) and only 31% of seniors (age 65 and older) shared the same view.
A significant number of respondents to the Conversica survey also believed failing to embrace AI would be to workers' detriment. Forty percent believed workers who don't embrace AI will miss out on new job opportunities, 35% believe workers with AI skills will replace those without, 32% believe workers without AI assistance will be less efficient and productive, and 28% believe they won't get work done as quickly.
Respondents were also excited about various applications of AI. The largest percentage (27%) were most excited about driverless cars and their potential to reduce accidents. Other areas of excitement were better education (22%), and more free time to spend with family and friends (21%). About 2% of respondents said they would use the additional free time gained by AI to “have office romances.”
Conversica also found in its survey that only 19% of respondents believed in the “doomsday” scenarios that AI will take over jobs and lead to mass unemployment. “The largest group of Americans surveyed found such scenarios 'unbelievable,' but 30 percent did admit that they don’t know and don’t believe anyone does,” according to Conversica.
Studies like these point to perhaps a more positive outlook on AI, particularly among younger generations. However it is worth noting that AI adoption is still in its very early stages. It will be interesting to see if opinions shift as AI becomes more ubiquitous and integrated into more and more jobs.
Respondents to the Conversica survey may be excited for AI to bring them more leisure time, but that's not to say this will necessarily be paid leisure time. If AI turns your 40-hour-per-week job into a 20-hour-per-week job, should your company still pay you a 40-hour-per-week wage? And what if prices of goods and services don't shift accordingly? The companies surveyed by Capgemini are making investments toward re-skilling and up-skilling workers, but what about the organizations that won't or can't? Someone like Mother Jones' Kevin Drum might ask how you upskill or re-train a truck driver who's position has been turned over to an autonomous vehicle.
The questions are still looming.Eeven a positive outlook today will not ensure one for tomorrow. A world driven by AI may in fact be one that is more efficient, leisurely, and perhaps even profitable. But the larger question that is plaguing pundits is will the average worker be able to afford to live in it?
What's your outlook on AI and how it will affect jobs? Share your opinions with us in the comments.
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Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.
[Lead image source: Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]