Artificial Intelligence and the Human Workforce

Dean Durrant

Earlier in July, Google rolled out their jobs platform. It was met with a mixed response – some in the recruitment world claimed it would revolutionise candidate experience; others were worried that it spelled the end of their careers. Yes, Google for Jobs prompted yet another speculative debate as to whether or not Artificial Intelligence will replace human jobs.

In recent years, conventions and expos in the technology-obsessed countries of Asia have lovingly demonstrated their creations. So called ‘robots’ that are capable of minor conversation, carrying items and walking (well, rolling) around. What was once confined to realms of science fiction is becoming reality.

You only need to look as far as the best-selling Amazon Echo. A small, cylindrical shaped device that can reply to your questions, obey your commands and do your online shopping for you.

Certainly, you could argue that as technology becomes more advanced, humans have less to do. Basic tasks require less effort. Really, it doesn’t take more than a few clicks to order something from Amazon and now you can simply do it by speaking out loud.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly creeping in to our everyday lives. So, what about our working lives? You barely need to search too far to realise that some people have descended in to mass hysteria over the whole thing. Not only will certain jobs become extinct by 2030, but the entire human race will be wiped out once the robots take over.

Whilst this apocalyptic vision of the future is fueling online conspiracy theorists, it’s not exactly given much credence by industry analysts and scientists.

There is reason to believe, however, that some jobs will no longer require an actual human person in order to be performed accurately and efficiently.

Last year, it was revealed that a construction company in America has started using robots to replace bricklayers. Why? Because they can lay up to 3,000 bricks per day – that’s six times as much as many human. And, with a burgeoning demand for housing, there is a need for speed.

The New York based firm Construction Robots has unveiled SAM (that’s Semi-Automated Mason) – an AI that could have major implications for the building trade here in the UK and around the world.

Another job set to be under pressure soon is that of the delivery driver, because Amazon and the like are keen to pioneer delivery via drone. It’s probably only owing to legal complications surrounding privacy and ensuring parcels aren’t left out in the open that it hasn’t happened sooner.

Bookkeepers, translators and even air traffic control positions are all touted to be replaced with AI or software that can analyse and interpret data as effectively as any human.

Think about it: How did you book your last holiday? Through a travel agent in an office or online through a price comparison site? How did you consume your last piece of news? By picking up a newspaper or by flicking through your phone?

Just as ‘period’ trades such as coal miners and lamp lighters have naturally become extinct as other ways of doing things emerge, so to will certain professions take one last step in to the sunset. It’s simply a case of changing needs: We consume things differently as technology advances.

So, no, the robots aren’t taking over. But if you use your smartphone or Kindle instead of borrowing a book from the library, are you in a position to complain should your job become threatened by technology?

It’s easy to get swept up in the uncertainty that AI poses to the human workforce. Maybe we’ll all have to prove that we’re so totally indispensable at our jobs to ensure we don’t get replaced.

And, who knows, maybe having an AI for a workmate will be less annoying than someone who brings in smelly lunches or talks really loudly on the phone.

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