AI and the Future of Human Employment
Artificial intelligence (AI) has seen massive advances in recent years. With systems like GPT-4 demonstrating human like language abilities and advancements in robotics leading to increasingly capable machines, many wonder what the future of human employment will look like in an AI-powered world.
AI Capabilities Continue to Grow
The capabilities of AI systems continue to expand at a rapid pace. In many areas, such as image recognition, language processing, strategic gameplay, and data analysis, AI can now match or surpass human abilities. As the co-founder of OpenAI, Greg Brockman has noted, 2022 saw large language models like GPT-3.5 being deployed in commercial applications by companies like Anthropic to power conversational assistants. With AI research and development continuing apace around the world, we can expect AI capabilities to become even more advanced in the coming years.
AI Taking Over Manual and Repetitive Jobs
Many experts predict that AI will initially replace jobs focused on manual and repetitive tasks. Positions like telemarketers, factory workers, transportation drivers, and data entry clerks could see labor demands decline as AI takes over responsibilities better suited to computerization. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, such jobs represent over 50% of activities across the global workforce that can potentially undergo automation based on currently available technologies.
Transportation Industry Disruption
The transportation industry is one sector analysts consistently single out as likely to experience major AI-driven disruption. With autonomous vehicles capable of sensing and navigating environments without human oversight nearing readiness, many believe professional human drivers will no longer be necessary in the not-too-distant future. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated a Tesla should be capable of level 5 autonomous driving with no human intervention required during 2023. If achieved, such technology could significantly alter jobs and business models across the transportation and shipping industries.
Factories Becoming Increasingly Automated
Along with transportation, factory and manufacturing jobs are another category with a high risk of automation displacement. Tasks involved in industrial production, such as mechanical movement, data collection, and quality monitoring are prime areas for AI and robotics to supplement and replace human factory workers. Automation technology provider UiPath estimates that up to 30% of repetitive manual work in factories globally could be automated just utilizing technologies available today like robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML).
New Roles Created by AI
However, while many jobs will decline or change significantly with advancing AI, the technology is also spurring demand for new roles. Just as prior innovations like industrial machinery, computing, and the internet created more jobs than they destroyed, many economists predict the same will hold true with AI.
AI Engineers and Scientists
Most directly, growth of the AI sector itself requires specialized workers developing and maintaining ML systems. Roles like data scientists, machine learning engineers, AI trainers, neural network architects, and model operations (MLOps) engineers are seeing surging demand and salary growth as AI expands. According to jobs site Indeed, postings for machine learning engineer openings grew over 650% from 2015 to 2021. With ever larger AI models requiring massive datasets and compute resources to build and run, companies pursuing AI applications continue to hunt for engineering talent to support projects.
Trainers for AI Models
In addition to building algorithmic architectures, roles focused on properly training AI systems using quality data are becoming increasingly vital. Creating the datasets to teach language models like GPT-3 requires human review and curation across massive volumes of text. Startups focused specifically on generating training data for AI like Scale AI have achieved billion dollar valuations. Machine learning models are highly sensitive to biases in data, requiring diligent oversight throughout the training process to avoid unintended consequences.
AI Compliance Officers
With AI infiltrating sensitive domains like finance, healthcare, and transportation, dedicated roles focused on compliance, ethics, and safety assurance are emerging. Monitoring algorithms for unfair bias, manipulation vulnerabilities, or other issues requires domain expertise coupled with technical competency to audit system decision making. Laws like Europe’s AI Act passed in 2022 mandate certain high risk AI systems have dedicated resources overseeing technology compliance and risk mitigation.
AI Complementing Human Skills
Rather than full displacement, AI will likely serve more as a productivity enhancer allowing humans to focus their efforts on the most impactful applications of their time and skills. Just as past innovations like calculators, computers, and machinery augmented human capabilities rather than replacing them outright, the same trend appears likely with AI. AI excels at narrow, repetitive tasks but still struggles matching humans in areas like creativity, strategy, empathy, leadership, and general wisdom.
Creatives and Strategists
Especially in fields centered on art, design, entertainment, creative thinking, complex problem solving, and strategic decision making, human ingenuity seems difficult to supplant anytime soon. From authors, musicians, architects, scientists, to corporate executives, politicians and nonprofit directors, such roles leverage talents and judgment honed across lifetimes of personal experience. While AI can assist creatives, strategists and leaders with certain analytical tasks, the responsibility for imagination, taste, ethics, vision and direction relies firmly on human shoulders for the foreseeable future.
An emerging specialty intersecting AI capabilities with human judgment is AI counseling services. With natural language processing enabling conversational interfaces, users can obtain therapy and emotional support through AI chatbots. However, current systems lack the empathy, ethics and compassion desired from mental health professionals. The startup Ele Health combines AI chatbots with human specialist oversight to provide responsive digital therapy tuned to individual needs. Such hybrid approaches allowing AI to handle repetitive tasks while humans offer guidance may become more common in highly personal services.
Job Retraining Programs
For workers displaced from automatable jobs, retraining programs teaching skills valued alongside AI will become essential. Governments and companies recognize massive retraining efforts must accompany technological shifts to avoid societal risks from permanent unemployment. Initiatives by South Korea, Singapore, Amazon, IBM and others aim to educate millions of workers worldwide on digital skills in areas like data engineering, machine learning operations and AI ethics over the next few years. Finding new niches for humans to productively cooperate with rather than compete against AI poses one of this century’s greatest challenges.
The Future Remains Uncertain
Predicting which new industries may arise, what the optimal role for humans is amid increasingly capable AI, and how economies will transform long-term remains highly speculative. Throughout history, technological innovation has both destroyed some categories of jobs while unlocking new potentials – but often in ways unforeseeable to contemporaries experiencing the disruption firsthand. Just as few experts predicted the scale of giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook emerging from the ashes of the 1990s dot com bubble, the landscape for human employment in the AI age continues obscured behind the horizon. Maintaining economic dynamism, institutional adaptability and options for personal retraining to help workers transition between roles poses vital societal priorities in the coming decades.
The expansion of artificial intelligence capabilities holds both promise and peril for the future of human employment. In the next decade, jobs focused on repetitive manual and analytical tasks seem primed for displacement from advancing automation and algorithms. However, AI also stands to unlock new potentials – as a productivity enhancer for human creators, strategists, leaders and innovators, and as an industry spurring new economic growth and roles much as prior technological revolutions did before it. Societal challenges remain on how to smoothly facilitate transitions between types of work, ensure equitable access to jobs, and align intelligent systems to ethics and human priorities. But by proactively shaping institutions and policy for an AI-powered future rather than reactively responding, we can maximize the prosperity and progress benefits these technologies may bring while minimizing harms from disruption. Through deliberative governance, continuous education, empathy, and responsible innovation, humans can thrive alongside artificial intelligence.
What types of jobs are most at risk from AI and automation?
Jobs focused on manual, repetitive tasks like assembly line manufacturing, transportation, data entry, telemarketing, and basic bookkeeping face the highest likelihood of being replaced by AI and robots in the coming years.
What new jobs might arise with growth in AI?
AI is creating demand for roles like data scientists, machine learning engineers, model trainers, neural network architects, AI ethics specialists, and machine learning operations (MLOps) engineers to develop and oversee these systems. Hybrid roles combining AI with human skills may also emerge.
How can governments help workers impacted by AI and automation?
Government retraining programs on digital skills, job search assistance, unemployment support, and higher education funding can help displaced workers transition to new stable careers. Upgrading education in science, technology and mathematics fields also prepares future generations.
What unique human talents seem difficult for AI to replicate?
Human advantages like creativity, imagination, taste, general wisdom, empathy, ethics, leadership ability, strategy, and complex communication/storytelling built on lifetimes of diverse experience remain difficult for AI to emulate thus far.
Will new industries and companies arise to employ humans in the AI age?
If historical precedents hold, major new industries and corporate giants may gradually emerge from AI technology much as companies like Google, Facebook and others took shape in the internet era, bringing new types of jobs and economic growth.
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