If automation can support us then perhaps the future isn’t so bleakby Nick Whitehead / March 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
There have been a large number of opinion pieces written recently in response to research findings that suggest that many of the jobs humans currently perform will be replaced by AI or robots. Claims that up to 50 per cent of jobs will be automated within the next 20 years build on the fears that were evoked by Stephen Hawking and his predictions about “robot rebellions” and AI being the “best or the worst thing for humanity.”
I always find it fascinating that the focus following these pronouncements from such eminent people is on the negative outcomes. Perhaps we might benefit from considering the positives? Indeed, the doom-laden predictions may also face some reality checks that will act to curb the outcomes or perhaps change our view of them.
It seems undeniable that machines will be able to perform jobs that have previously required human action. Driverless cars are one of the most recent examples; perhaps taxi drivers will ultimately become redundant. But haven’t we been automating such things throughout human existence? Building a tractor to plough a field removed the need for horses. On a grander scale the industrial revolution is littered with automation examples which replaced jobs that humans had traditionally performed.
How have we responded to such change in the past? My contention is that humans have adapted to harness the automation. While some jobs have disappeared new ones have emerged. We have needed to move with the trends and exploit new and different opportunities.
A simple example from my experience illustrates a beneficial application of AI which required existing job descriptions to be reconsidered.
Atkins has supported a facial recognition solution which has been used to protect the UK Border over the last five years. Recent advances in AI have dramatically improved the performance of the recognition process, making it more secure. However, the introduction of the solution was initially met with some hostility from security guards who felt that the system was taking their job away. The reality proved somewhat different.
Once the system was in place, the guards could focus on what they do best: checking behaviour. Whilst the machine helped with the mundane aspects of the job, the guards felt that they had an elevated…