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Artificial intelligence: a job creator or job destroyer?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

Artificial intelligence is often perceived as the harbinger of a new age in which robots take over the majority of our jobs. But there is another less alarmist perspective to this that is given much less airtime. Could AI, in fact, create jobs?

There is no doubt that automation will cause some jobs to vanish. Equally, it will change some jobs beyond recognition. AI is such a driving force in modern technology that there will be changes to roles across the entire job market, even professional jobs which had, until now, seemed exempt from such automation. As we speak, AI is already having a noticeable impact on roles from translators and drivers to lawyers and online financial advisors.

That is not to say that the job market is usually motionless. It is constantly changing, from role requirements to the growth in popularity of entirely new positions and sectors. For instance, data scientist was, until a few years ago, a niche role. Today, however, data scientists are highly sought-after with “machine learning engineer” leading the charge as the fastest-growing position in some job markets.

AI will speed up the creation of value

The reality is that technology has always created value. AI is unlikely to be any different. A report from the World Economic Forum on the future of jobs suggests that AI is likely to destroy around 75 million roles by 2022. The report uses the word "displace" but we know what it means. However, by the same date, AI is expected to have created 133 million new jobs – almost double the number "displaced." Research from the consultancy firm PwC is more modest, but still suggests that AI will create at least as many jobs as it destroys.

PwC’s analysis, however, suggests that the impact could be greater than the raw figures suggest. This is because AI will have different effects on different industries. For example, it is expected to be a net creator of jobs in the health sector. In manufacturing and transportation, however, AI is expected to remove about 20-25 per cent of jobs. PwC does not expect any major change in admin and support services, and retail is likely to see only a small loss of jobs, around 2-3 per cent.

The effect will also vary for those with different skills. The early impact of automation was very much on lower-paid and manual work. I have very little doubt that the coming of AI will favour those with digital skills, who are able to work in partnership with both humans and machines. It’s certain human skills that machines find it hardest to replicate.

All rungs of the job ladder will be impacted - plus new processes and enterprises

This does not, however, mean that there will be no entry-level, minimum-wage jobs in the future. Rowan Trollope describes, quite humorously, new jobs at all levels, from entry-level through mid-career to senior posts. Entry-level jobs are likely to be based on the requirement to "sort out robots that got it wrong" or "robot paramedic" work. At mid-career level, the jobs available are more likely to be service-based – but services for AI and virtual reality-based systems.

At a more professional or senior level, where we expect most of the new jobs to appear, roles are likely to focus on understanding and interpreting AI and navigating the interface between human and machine. For example, one of the biggest issues with AI is to ensure that its decisions are rational, transparent and justifiable. Organisations will need to work out how an AI-based system has made a decision, then explain it to the regulatory authority in case of a “data leakage breach” or “security breach.” This could be as simple as trying to work out how a driverless car decided which way to swerve to avoid an accident, yet could get extremely complicated for financial or network configuration decisions.

CTOs and CIOs should prepare for a transformation of their data networks

In many countries, a lot of subscribers move around. Either they travel on the weekends or holidays, or you have a lot of visiting tourists during certain times of the year. During these times, especially in the EU after roaming tariffs have been abolished, our network needs to adapt to a different kind of behaviour. With limited teams and manual resources, daily optimisation changes are not brought into the equation. The result is that organisations design networks for one kind of usage. The best take some seasonality into account while ignoring daily fluctuations.

But what if you could let your (cloud-based) virtual machines run the algorithms? What if they could then decide on the optimal parameter settings for the network every day? Or what if you could run a few hundred different network planning scenarios to help optimise the planning and deployment of fibre and 4/5G networks, and get ROI of 10 per cent of Capex savings? Watch this amazing video showing how some Facebook data scientists, using AI and internal and external data sources, managed to achieve this.

Things are changing… for the better

AI will inevitably cause seismic changes to society as it grows in cognitive power. Yet, this is nothing new. The world of work has been constantly adapting and changing since its inception, through the invention of farming, the feudal system, the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age. Our technological future looks to be on that same trajectory.

While many retro predictions about the future of jobs have been correct (Star Trek got VR and video calls spot on in the 1960s), there is no evidence to suggest that this is the start of an apocalyptic downfall. Which jobs will survive to the age of our grandchildren, and which will go the way of coachmen and chimneysweeps to become mere characters in storybooks?

Sasa Crnojevic, Network AI & Machine Learning Business Principal, SAS