HCI

Future of Work and the impact of AI

Robot workers

An important part of Quality of Life is depending on work: think of income, social inclusion, satisfaction. Artificial Intelligence is going to play an important role in the shift of work and maybe even more.

One of the Hollywoord doom scenarios is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over all jobs and humans will become unnecessary and even extinct or to be used as energy sources only (like in The Matrix movies)



Artificial Intelligence will soon eliminate almost all meaningful jobs?

There is a tension between automation and innovation. Automation decreases the number of jobs and innovation creates new jobs. History shows that more new jobs are created. You might even say that jobs became more meaningful because routine tasks were automated.

Let’s have a look at the impact of technology and AI. Therefore, I use a model of data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Each layer adds value to next layer: e.g. information is created from data, knowledge uses information. In the WDR 2019 report, there is a nice phrase: “better information encourages change”. Knowledge is using better information. Wisdom is making the right decisions based on this knowledge. Let’s look at ‘The Matrix of Wisdom’:

Matrix

We humans are not so good in handling the overload of data and information. Computers can take care of a lot of data (without getting bored). Due to having access to more and more data, AI predictions based on these data are getting better and better.

The Technology/AI tools ‘pushes’ us higher up the ladder to the levels of knowledge and wisdom. This is also where we have to develop: working better together and be able to use the technological tools (‘ask the right questions’). Nowadays, it is common for most people to be able to work with a computer. We have to start learning to work with AI tools.

We also need to work better together in order to deal with the global problems like climate change, pandemics and the questions addressed by The World Bank: better social contracts, more equal opportunities for all. In a way, there is a necessity for expertise from AI to be able to cope with the challenges that we face.

The WDR 2019 report is in itself a use of more advanced technologies and working together in creating this report: full transparency, making weekly updates available to all via Internet so a lot of people around the globe could work together in realizing this document with more commitment and support (and awareness).

Another example is farmers in developing areas: better access to information (weather prediction, updates on market prices) and sharing of knowledge create a better fulfilling of their jobs and more prosperity.



Artificial Intelligence will soon eliminate almost all meaningful jobs!

There is also another side: due to automation, the trend is towards more lower-income and higher-income jobs and to less middle-income jobs. The higher-income jobs benefit more from new technologies. Middle-income jobs are automated and pushed to the lower-income jobs if upscaling to a higher level is not achieved.

Jim Yong Kim raises as an example the question: “What are people going to do if automation takes over the garment industry?”. He gives the example in Bangladesh where sewer robots are being introduced that can stich twice as fast and at eventually a lower cost than a Bangladeshi worker. AI is definitely going to have impact on these kind of industries.

Are we looking in this way like the Luddites did in the 19th century when the industrialization started? Seeing a problem that will be solved by innovation? This is what history shows us. However, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Is it different this time? Now, we encounter a rapid speed of change having global impact.



Another perspective

Let’s use wisdom and find another perspective. Every worker is both a producer and consumer. Because of our work efforts, we get income with which we buy products and services that we need and like. This is how the economy keeps on rolling. Suppose that a very large part of the workers are getting less paid due to a shift to lower-income jobs (or become unemployed). This would have a tremendous impact on buying power and as a result may bring the world economy in stagnation.

The right upper part of the model (wisdom, knowledge) has a lot of potential for humans to do more meaningful activities. Think of community work, helping others, joining hackathons for good, giving dance classes, raising awareness for good, being more vulnerable and friendly, develop yourself and others. These activities are very meaningful and very valuable. The question is how to fit in the ‘money part’. The concept of ‘value’ and how it is ‘paid’ needs to be revised.

So, a better question would be: how can we use Artificial Intelligence to make this world a better place, how to create more meaningful activities for all?

The city state Athens, the first democracy in history, was a place full of philosophy, art, politics, schooling and learning. However, slaves did the work and women had not so much rights. Right now, we are starting to have AI ‘workers’ that can help us to create an improved ‘global city state’: this time fruitful and with equal opportunities for all when we make the right choices for how we want the future to look like.

To some of you this may sound like an Utopian vision. Remember: having dreams and aspirations are one of the best human abilities that we have!


Sources

edX course: The Future of Work: Preparing for Disruption
The World Bank: Word Development Report 2019
Harry Holzer: Job Market Polarization and U.S. Worker Skills: A Tale of Two Middles
David Autor: Ted talk: Will Automation Take Away all our Jobs

Jim Yong Kim: Human Capital and Technology: Building the New Social Contract