The threat of AI to jobs — it is a debate that won’t go away. The Bank of England and the World Bank Chief are only two voices, in a growing network, that are concerned by the rise of AI and the loss of jobs.
This continuing question is not surprising, according to John Gikopoulos, Global Head for automation and artificial intelligence AI at Infosys Consulting: fear and uncertainty make for good headlines.
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“The short answer is that no-one can accurately predict what tomorrow’s job market will look like, any more than the first observers of Stephenson’s Rocket could imagine the huge numbers of people employed by the global, multi-billion dollar railway industry of today,” explains Gikopoulos.
“We prefer to take our cue from other industrial revolutions to which we’ve somehow managed to adapt. And the most likely outcome of AI will be a positive shift in the nature of the work we do.”
“We see jobs becoming less functionary and more visionary as AI takes up the burden of repetitive processes. As we’ve described, humans will always be needed to give meaning and direction to AI. That doesn’t just mean that we’ll continue to have jobs in a world of robots – it means that our work will be more interesting and rewarding,” he says.
Getting left behind
On the flip side, one could argue, that for the millions working in the transportation industry, for example – truck drivers, taxi drivers and train drivers – the rise of AI and automation spells disaster. Will they be able to go back to university, upskill into more technical fields, ahead of students who are already studying in these technology-related areas? It is unlikely.
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So, while AI can provide the opportunity to free workers up from less laborious and more innovative tasks. There is a real risk that many will be left behind.
“High-skill folks do very well in these systems, and can leverage their talents and interface with machines to extend their reach, sales, products, and services,” said then-President Obama. “Low-wage, low-skill individuals become more and more redundant, and their jobs may not be replaced, but wages will be suppressed.”
Culture shift needed
The next step with AI is using the technology as an opportunity for humans to move up the value chain and get rid of these mundane jobs altogether.
“This isn’t wishful thinking: it’s an essential part of successful AI,” says Gikopoulos.
“Without ambition and creative thinking, we won’t be able to apply AI effectively to the problems that we face. That in itself is a challenge that business leaders need to solve. They need to understand how to reorient their workers’ mindsets (and, indeed, their own view of employees’ roles) to support creativity and new ways of thinking. Again – and it can’t be stressed enough – AI is only as powerful as the human understanding that puts its to work.”
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For most businesses, this will require a seismic cultural shift. “We are often fixated on core technical skills; from coding to advanced topics like data science and machine learning. But have we lost sight of the softer skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and applying insight to business strategy?”
“AI can find facts and can even recommend prescriptive or proscriptive actions – but what it can’t do is formulate a watertight strategy based on the insights it discovers. We want business leaders to foster an atmosphere of experimentation and innovation, and constantly question how they can deploy smart technologies such as AI to solve today’s challenges,” says Gikopoulos.