Robotics and AI could threaten up to 35% of jobs in UK

Clongriffin Railway Station In North Dublin

Who’ll be going to work in 20 years?
(Photo: William Murphy on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

A new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch has added to the recent spate of analysis predicting a massive impact on work and jobs by robotics and artificial intelligence (as reported in the Guardian).

They estimate that up to 35% of all jobs in the UK (47% in the US) are at risk of displacement by technology within 20 years. This is going to cause a huge shift in the type of work that people can expect to do in the future. It has important implications for education policy, jobs and economic growth. In addition, it is incumbent on politicians and policy makers to ensure that the benefits from increased automation are widely distributed.

A common counter point made is that by eliminating some jobs, technology creates other jobs. However, the authors note:

“The trend is worrisome in markets like the US because many of the jobs created in recent years are low-paying, manual or services jobs which are generally considered ‘high risk’ for replacement,” the bank says.

While 20 years may seem like far into the future, children born this year will just be entering the workforce then. They may be faced with not having any jobs to look forward to.

via Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality | Technology | The Guardian.


Why Businesses Embrace Machine Learning

Scientific American has published an excerpt from The Master Algorithm, by Pedro Domingos that’s worth a read.

Given that we are living in the Age of the Algorithm, it’s worth knowing just how pervasive they are. Every post on Facebook you see, every search result from Google, every advert on every website: all are controlled by invisible – and unaccountable – algorithms.

Once the inevitable happens and learning algorithms become the middlemen, power becomes concentrated in them. Google’s algorithms largely determine what information you find, Amazon’s what products you buy, and’s who you date.

Power will accrue to those who have the best algorithms. If you want to know why and how, Domingo’s book is definitely one to add to your Christmas booklist.

via Why Businesses Embrace Machine Learning [Excerpt] – Scientific American.

Why your job is threatened by Artificial Intelligence

AI will eliminate jobs. Will new ones be created in time?
AI will eliminate jobs. Will new ones be created in time?

For a long time, AI was the stuff of Hollywood movies, usually cast in a villain’s role. Usually, the machine was endowed with megalomaniacal tendencies, intent on wiping out humanity. While this made for good entertainment, the reality of AI was a completely different story.

But the highly visible, recent successes of AI and machine learning (for example Google’s self-driving car) have led many commentators to re-evaluate the possible impact of Artificial Intelligence on society and people’s jobs.

In 2013, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne from Oxford University published a paper that reviewed 702 different jobs and estimated that 47 percent of them would be threatened by computerisation. This led to a flurry of articles about this possible threat, some saying that the number is too high, others too low, especially when confronted by recent advances in Artificial Intelligence.

J.P. Gownder at Forrester published a study more recently that estimated 25% of jobs would change and that increasing use of AI would cause a net reduction in jobs of 7%. Wired is taking a more balanced view that as with all technological advances, some jobs would be lost and others would be created. Even the World Economic Forum has pitched in, calling for world governments to address the new requirements with appropriate skills for people.

Some others have taken the view that there are some things that AI will never be able to do. Hampus Jakobsson, writing for The Next Web, optimistically identifies five uniquely human-centric jobs that machines will never be able to so, including Salesperson and Product Psychologist. Similarly, Nigel Webb maintains that AI will not be able to create more engaging advertising. He makes the appeal that engagement in advertising is primarily an emotional response.

Even where AI is being deployed today, there seems to be a form of double-think going on. For example, Clara is a software driven personal assistant, that can schedule appointments simply by being included on the email distribution. In a recent interview, Maran Nelson, the CEO of Clara Labs who created Clara, stated that “the intention is not to replace humans with tech, just remove more tedious human jobs”.

This particular example goes to the heart of the matter. Clara takes one time-consuming tedious task (but tricky to accomplish) and automated it. This is exactly what computerization and in fact technology has been doing for the last several decades, if not longer. So while their intention is not to replace people, that will in fact be the ultimate outcome.

“Everything that can be automated, will.” – Shoshana Zuboff, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School (Retired)

Prof. Zuboff wrote this in the 1980s, in relation to the advancing computerization. When we follow this logically it means that any task is subject to automation, to a varying degree of difficulty and feasibility. When we look at our jobs, we find that each one is made up of a combination of tasks and responsibilities. Some of these tasks are complex, requiring lots of skill and intelligence to complete. Others are boring and repetitive. Commercial AI will attack these latter tasks first and as researchers learn more they will increasingly attack the former.

Practically every job in existence today has been affected by technological progress in some fashion. This shows no signs of stopping. Every job will be affected in some way by AI, whether it’s the elimination of parts of the job or the wholesale replacement of the job by a range of task-oriented AIs. It’s important to note that this does not require legions of general-AI robots or machines. It only requires legions of narrow-AI, some of which are already with us today.

To claim that some jobs are immune to AI is to ignore the history of technological progress. This progress is not going to stop, so we might as well accept it and examine how the nature of work will change in the next few decades and it’s effect on people.

In an interview back in March, Hilary Schaub (a Personal Assistant to a Vice President) used another automated scheduling assistant called Amy (from xdotai). She said that Amy eliminated a boring part of her job, but felt that her job was safe. What she fails to recognize is that there will be a Bob, Chris and Daisy coming along that will do other parts of her job. Pretty soon, her job will be redundant, dead from the cuts from a thousand AIs.

Artificial Intelligence is going to have a profound impact on jobs and public policy makers should be aware that “creating jobs” won’t be as important in the future as “creating employment opportunities”. The WEF call to action is sound and timely. Unfortunately it will probably be ignored until the problem is acute.

The clock has been running for a while and it has just started ticking faster.


Frey & Osborne (Paper/PDF): The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?

JP Gownder (Forrester Blog): Robots Won’t Steal All The Jobs — But They’ll Transform The Way We Work

Cade Metz (Wired): Robots Will Steal Our Jobs, But They’ll Give Us New Ones

Sudan & Yadunath (WEF): Are we heading towards a jobless future?

Jakobsson (The Next Web): 5 tech jobs machines will never be able to do

Webb (Campaign): Why artificial intelligence will not create more engaging ads

Nelson (USA Today): Clara is applying to be your virtual personal assistant, no benefits required

Professor Shoshana Zuboff (Personal Site)

Schaub & West: Should I worry about Amy the AI robot taking my job?

Toyota Pursuing Alternative AI Car Strategy

Toyota is investing $50m into driver-assisted Artificial Intelligence, in partnership with MIT and Stanford, according to Fortune. The research will be focused on helping human drivers avoid accidents by adding AI to their cars.

This is in contrast to the seemingly much more ambitious self-driving cars being pursued by Google and others. Although Toyota itself demonstrated it’s own self-driving Lexus in 2013, it seems that they also believe that people will still want to drive their own cars. By investing in AI technology to augment human drivers, Toyota seems to be hedging its bets.

There is still a long way to go before we will see fully autonomous cars and trucks commonly on the roads. The fruits of this research may be installed in your car much sooner than that.


Toyota partners with MIT and Stanford on artificial intelligence – Fortune

Toyota sneak previews self-drive car ahead of tech show

What Enterprise Leaders Believe About Artificial Intelligence

This fascinating infographic gives some insight into what enterprise leaders believe about artificial intelligence, robotics and the future of work.

What I find interesting is that those leaders define AI as a technology that thinks and acts like humans. This is definitely the wrong definition to use when evaluating the near-term impact of AI on the workplace. Clearly this type of AI is not eliminating jobs as it doesn’t exist right now.

Current machine intelligence definitely doesn’t think like a human. However, it will have a profound effect on jobs and human work. It’s not clear that it will create jobs to as great extent as it will eliminate them.

Do you think artificial intelligence will eliminate jobs?

Source: Infographic: How artificial intelligence will reinvent the workplace – Digital Pulse

Beware Artificial Intelligence Snake Oil

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil (Source Wikipedia)
Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil (Source Wikipedia)

Business Owners! Have you got an Internet Strategy? A Mobile Strategy? A Cloud Strategy? A Social Media Strategy?

That’s a lot of strategies to think about. Now, those responsible for business strategy are also being encouraged to have an Artificial Intelligence Strategy. No doubt there will soon be a consultant with a new job title to help: the Artificial Intelligence Strategist.

It is prudent as a business owner to be aware of what’s happening in the AI field so that if you come across something, you can evaluate it and it’s impact on your business.

As with any new area of technology, there will be lots of different things which will be labelled as AI, but won’t really be. In fact, most of what passes for AI today, isn’t really intelligent at all either.

Take Machine Learning as an example. The term itself is misleading in that it seems to indicate that the machine (more likely the computer) is learning something the way that people do. In fact, that’s not happening at all. Machine learning is mostly very clever algorithms that are adept at picking out patterns in noisy data. These patterns can be used to make predictions about other data, with a high degree of accuracy. So fundamentally, it’s building a mathematical model based on a set of training data.

I’ve deliberately glossed over how difficult this is in practice. A lot of the success of these techniques is due to the intelligence of the people creating the algorithms.

When you see the term “Artificial Intelligence”, it’s also worth reminding yourself that AI today is an umbrella term for a toolbox of algorithms and techniques. Each technique has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, and a domain to which it is suited.

It is most definitely not a brain in a box that can carry out lots of different functions. That type of AI is still in the realm of science fiction and certain sensationalist areas of the popular press.

If you see someone selling you a product or a service with AI in the title, ask what sort of AI they are talking about. What technique does it use? What tasks will it automate? How will it be trained? How robust is it? How accurate is it? Claims of 100% accuracy are a definite red flag.

AI is definitely worth keeping an eye on due to it’s disruptive potential if you are a business owner, or responsible for strategy. Just watch out for the snake oil.

The AI Threat: It’s All About Jobs

Google Self Driving Car – Disrupting Transportation and Logistics Industries (Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This article in the Guardian Newspaper by John Naughton is a lot less sensationalistic than some recent existential scaremongering. Nevertheless, the underlying argument is just as threatening:

but there’s little doubt that the main thrust of the research is accurate: lots of non-routine, cognitive, white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs are going to be eliminated in the next two decades and we need to be planning for that contingency now.

However, the author is not optimistic about that planning taking place for two reasons, one related to our political short-termism, which ignores anything that has a horizon longer than the next general election, the other related to our innate incapacity for dealing with change.

There are other reasons too. The popular concept of AI is still rooted in science fiction (perhaps due to Hollywood movies). This means that any discussion around it’s impact on day-to-day life may be met with a slight incredulity. Only when AI is everywhere will realization dawn on people that planning is needed.

Another reason for not focusing on planning for change is simple economics. If a corporation can replace a worker with an Artificial Intelligence that can operate around the clock, then it is compelled to do that to grow it’s profits.

In any event, commerce will ensure that the current pace of development of AI and Machine Learning will continue and accelerate. The time left for planning is short.

We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Will our smartphones be more intelligent than us?

A somewhat alarmist article appeared in The Canberra Times yesterday (April 26th 2015). This particular excerpt is quite speculative:

Within seven years – about when the iPhone 11 is likely to be released – the smartphones in our pockets will be as computationally intelligent as we are. It doesn’t stop there, though. These devices will continue to advance, exponentially, until they exceed the combined intelligence of the human race.

The analogy here though is quite flawed. An iPhone (indeed, any mobile phone) is simply mobile computer hardware. It is the software that makes it actually do things, such as making calls, surfing the internet and running applications.

So although the phone may have a large amount of computational power, it will be advances in software that will largely determine how it behaves running AI software.

Today’s research is focused on building smart algorithms that solve specific problems, not into building generally intelligent machines. As a result, the futuristic iPhone is more likely to have dozens of AIs rather than a single one, each AI very good at one thing, but completely clueless at others.

Of course, this also depends on rapid advances in battery technology. Otherwise the phone may die before the AI gets to “Hello”.

via The coming problem of smartphones being more intelligent than us.

The robots are coming, and they want your job

RuBot II

This is a very good article on some of the potential impacts of mass production of robots and Artificial Intelligent machines. There are going to be huge impacts on society, economics and wealth generation.

That means any job a human can do will soon be done by a machine which will probably do it even better. Plus, they won’t require rest, they’re more easily replaced and upgraded, and they don’t demand higher wages or join pesky unions.

Scary stuff indeed.

There is going to be a lot of regulation required on the use of such machines, especially when wealth generation will be concentrated in the hands of a few.

This will happen long before the big philosophical questions arise about intelligence, sentience and rights for machines. The main reason is that Artificial Intelligence won’t be one all-encompassing intelligence. Instead it will be a thousand different AI’s, each one focused on being superior in one area or on one class of problems.

In any event, how long will it be before protests start and politicians react? Perhaps in the next decade or so. All the signs point to rapid industry adoption of AI technology which can only mean less work for humans.

via The robots are coming, and they want your job.