Artificial Intelligence will change your job... and the entire world

I don’t think robots will steal your job, you’re (probably) okay.

At this moment, a lot of the work that used to be done by humans is done by computers: from simple mathematical tasks to more complex ones such as deciding which financial decision is best or predicting the weather for the next few days. Everyday machines are perfecting their tasks and learning how to solve novel problems that were thought impossible before for computers to tackle. In this scenario you may ask:

Are robots going to replace us?

The Past

Since the rise of computers, more and more things became automated. It was a common perception that Artificial Intelligence would not be able to tackle more complex problems, such as chess. However, matches between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue (IBM supercomputer) proved that Artificial Intelligence is able to win even against a chess champion.

Then, people did not believe that computers would be able to master the Chinese game Go, considered way more complex than chess due to the number of possible configurations of the board being bigger than the number of atoms in the observable universe and therefore, computational capacity by itself would not suffice: there should be some sort of creativity and intuition to master the game, which was attributed as an exclusive characteristic of humans. Google DeepMind Team then created the Alpha Go. In order to evaluate its capacity, matches against professional Go players were held, until a final event that was heavily covered by the media: The Google DeepMind Challenge consisted of playing against one of the top figures of Go, Lee Sedol.

Lee Sedol versus Alpha Go. There is a documentary about this event (available on Netflix)

Before the matches, Sedol was sure he would not lose. However, the final score was striking: Alpha Go 4–1 Lee Sedol. Hereby proving that AI can tackle problems as complex as Go.

The Present

A common misconception is to simply think “The world is about to change”. This is true but does not tell the whole story: the world is already changing. Artificial Intelligence is currently used to support many tasks. I would like to highlight some interesting stuff we have around and often do not realize:

Stanley: The first self-driving car to finish the DARPA Grand Challenge route.
  • Self-Driving Cars: If you get an Uber in San Francisco you may find out that the driver is just supervising the car instead of actively driving it. There are still some conditions in which the self-driving cars do not perform well (e.g. in the snow or other adversarial weather conditions), but we are on our way to enable a driverless world.
  • Medical diagnosis: Some Artificial Intelligence systems are used to support diagnostics. For instance, there are some approaches to classify medical images and indicate whether a patient presents a disease or not, with better accuracy than trained humans. These systems do not substitute doctors and radiologists, they are rather used as supporting tools to confirm their assumptions/conclusions. (References: [1] [2] [3] [4])
  • Art & Music: Many people think that AI cannot be used for non-logical/mathematical stuff, like art, and music. Advancements in AI enabled its use in these fields, there are applications in which AI is used to produce novel text, art and music based on other author/artist/musician style. (Some References: [1] [2] [3] [4] )
Taryn Southern  Break Free: Instrumentation composed by Artificial Intelligence

Additionally, AI has seen an increased use in almost every industry. As you can note, it is mostly used to assist in some tasks, but it can also be seen in fully automated processes. The trend is that AI will permeate even more our society and we will work close to it (hybrid) and some tasks might get fully automated.

The Future

The changes are already happening and will inevitably keep going. In the coming years, certain jobs have a higher likelihood to be fully automated, which is directly dependent on how “human” the job is.

Generally, there are two ways to look at the future of work:

  • Utopia: AI/Robots will substitute all humans activities, we will no longer have to work and will have a long and healthy lives. This vision also implies the resolution of all (or almost all) world problems.
  • Dystopia: AI/Robots take place of workers one by one leading to a massive unemployment rate, which of course would be catastrophic. Dystopian visions also include things like an eventual robot revolution and many bad endings for the human race. This vision is often transmitted by the media through news, tv shows, and movies, the main reason being that people get more interested in negative content which triggers debates and therefore more traffic to the media. In particular, Black Mirror got a lot of the public attention and helped to bring the future debate on the table, with a very characteristic and remarkable phrase: “The question is not if you want this, but are you ready for it?”.

I personally think that these perspectives are too radical because even though changes may happen fast, such a change will not happen overnight. This opinion is also expressed in “The Inevitable”, through a concept named “Protopia”: progress comes in an incremental way that makes today’s world slightly better than yesterday.

Of course, problems arise along the way: when we start using more and more self-driving vehicles the work of many drivers will not be necessary. You can both see this scenario as something bad (in the sense that may happen a big job shortage) or as a unique opportunity (those people will have to change, and you may help in that process to both build a better world for yourself and for them).

Your role

It is not a matter of choice anymore. The world is already changing and will keep going further. If we are able to automate certain tasks eventually, we will.

In this process, you can choose one of the two positions:

  1. Passive: Look at the world changing and react as you go.
  2. Active: Being a part of the change by contributing to it, making sure the world we create together is really better than yesterday.

I do indeed believe the second is more attractive: when you are part of the change you may no longer fear it. Well, the world is changing anyway, right? If you are part of the change it is much easier to embrace it. Learning is key, as Alvin Toffler says:

And when creating our future it is our duty to make sure that the changes are going towards a better future for everyone, that is, without letting Artificial Intelligence evolve in a harmful way.

So yea, I do not think robots/computers will replace humans. Rather we will change our society to embrace AI and incorporate it where it makes sense. Problems may arise, but we will fight them as we go, ethically. If you want to be a part of this future, help to create it.

As Andrew Ng puts,

“Just as electricity transformed almost everything close to 100 years ago, today I have a hard time thinking of an industry that Artificial Intelligence will not transform.”

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