I tirelessly see articles depicting our demise as AI takes over the world. Jobs are going to disappear instantly, we are all going to be at the whim of our robot overlords, and a new age will begin where robots do everything leaving us lost and without purpose. I find these scenarios boring; not because they cannot happen, but because they try too hard scaring us. The technology we have today only exists because at some point we needed to do something or wanted something in our lives and we went out of our way to create it. I want to end my topic of AI with a simple question: “Where do we get off?” In other words, when do we get to a point where the big men and women in the room at the top of the corporate chain say: “We don’t need these employees anymore.” And with that thinking, we see phases where jobs reach a complexity that requires more than a bachelors degree and work that required a bachelors degree today has become so abstracted that you don’t need a person to do it anymore or it becomes a simple task during the day. When do we say we’ve reach that limit and what does it look like?
There Will Be Jobs, You Just Won’t Be Employable
When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, I doubt he sat back in his chair, looking at his finished product, and thought about how he was going to create a social platform that would harvest billions of people’s private information. When Facebook first came out, I remember it being primarily a social platform that was about connecting with people you lost touch with. It was particularly popular with college students and college graduates. Open up Facebook today, and you will see more articles that you probably wouldn’t read and less posts from your friends. The original intent of just connecting with your friends has become a platform used for profit. The point I’m trying to make is that Facebook has evolved based on where the trail of money lead. This same logic applies to AI.Think of when AI assistants first came out. The original intent of AI was to assist you with basic questions like, “what’s the weather?” Or “What is the score for the Mets and Yankees game?” Now, we have AI assistants that control our home, do tasks that used to require manual effort, collect and sell our data, and use our data to sell us more products. What became of simple and helpful assistants that were primarily a feature to sell more electronic devices, has now become an essential service used to push more profit. I’m not saying that AI assistants shouldn’t be doing things like controlling your house or helping you maintain your life, but none of these things happened because it’s for the better good. All of these features exist because someone with a lot of money saw potential to make more money by putting AI in your phone. This applies to our existing job market. Computer Science, at the time of this writing, is exploding with jobs because there is money to be made in creating and designing software, solving complex problems efficiently, and analyzing data. Yet areas like retail positions are disappearing at an alarming rate because the money just isn’t there. When I look at the future, I see a world where if you aren’t the one automating then you are being automated. This is a good rule of thumb to have when in the working world; you either lead or you automate, otherwise you’re time is limited. If you’re the mastermind behind Alexa, then your chances of being replace are minimal. However, if you’re a manager at Macy’s you’re easily replaceable. You may bring nothing of value in the future we are heading. The jobs that are easily done by those without a degree or some form of specialization are vanishing. I think as we see automation from AI become more and more common, we will see a lot of new jobs get created, but the shoes you will need to fill to apply will be too big. There will be jobs, it’s just that some of use won’t be employable. How do we take the cashiers from a chain like Wendy’s and replace them with self serve machines, and then migrate them into positions that will fix and maintain these machines as they break down? The skill level isn’t the same, and the number of positions required will be dramatically less. The kind of technology we are creating today requires technical backgrounds, it’s not just asking someone who’s a brick layer to now pull a lever instead of laying the bricks by hand. Instead, it’s like asking a brick layer to either design the next version of a brick laying machine or show them the door.
AI Isn’t Going To Enslave Us; It’s Going To Make Us More Fragile
This takes me to my next point. Based on what we have now and where we are looking to go with the AI we’ve designed, we are not looking at Skynet, we are looking at more ways to get access to machines that use to have no access at all. A great example is AI used in the military. If we create predator missile drones that require no human intervention, what happens when one goes rouge? Not because it has become self aware, but because a bad guy hacked into it and commandeered control. These are reasons why some top experts have massive fear with what we are looking to do with AI. These systems aren’t perfect and they can make miscalculations because we are asking for them to do things not based instructions we gave them, but rather with data that we asked these systems to gather. For now, it’s okay if Alexa miscalculated the item you wanted to order on Amazon because it’s machine learning needs improvement, but this can’t happen when we are in a car or plane. One day, we will have 100% confidence in the AI that will take over our lives, and some of it will be life dependent. However, if we don’t make sure that we secure our AI systems, then we are asking for someone to create major disasters. Self driving cars will be great, but not when someone can hack into the network the AI uses and gives instructions to swerve into the car next to it.
The job market will go the same way. AI will create a fragile job market. The future may see careers that end abruptly because AI can fill the gap quickly. How far are we willing to go to replace workers before we press ourselves against the wall? And big corporations don’t care that they are laying off their workforce, because workers are expensive and being a big company with a small workforce creates a lot of money for those who are investing in you. In my mind, AI isn’t a robot going to work doing your job, it’s an international company with a single office and minimal employees running it. It’s a world where only the most educated in the right field survive while the rest are left wondering how they will survive in what’s left.
Like Most Things, There is a Silver Lining
Despite all my gloom that I see in our future, I do see a silver lining. We need to ask ourselves when we need to step away. AI and automation are amazing because they do something that humans were never able to do in all of our known history. We can at some point create a system of technology that works for us so well, we no longer need to lift a finger. This transformation is relatable to the manufacturing industry. There was a time where manufacturing was a very employable market, now it’s reserved for people with highly specialized skills and companies that still haven’t figure out how to manufacture all their products with machines. But we don’t know how to live in a world where we don’t produce in order to perceive value. Today, you work and produce something in order to instantiate value on your life. Based on what you produce determines that value you have in this world. This is why a Best Buy specialist makes less than a doctor. One produces a more worthy service than the other. However, what do we do in a world where we don’t need many salesman and we don’t need many doctors? How do we express and determine value? What will destroy the beauty of AI and automation is the forces that drive it. We don’t know how to live in a world without money. We’ve always worked for our money and work was always plentiful and easy to find. The work that future will have though will not be for people with bachelors degrees. It will be for people with skills backed with graduate degrees and research. It will ask for years of experience that many won’t have. We can fill this gap of course, we could hold off and wait for the rest of the world to catch up, but eventually we will reach the point where you don’t need 300 computer scientists to solve problems and write software. Instead, we will need a handful of people that can research and solve highly complex problems that can push technology even further. We will one day reach a point where only the most educated are qualified for the majority of jobs.
AI is the Face of Automation
If you asked me what automation looked like, I would tell you it is your phone’s AI assistant or your Amazon Alexa. The entire subject of AI is the face of automation. Today, we still write user software that makes our lives easier, but now we are seeing our phone AI and our home AI start to tap into the apps we use. Alexa can order pizza for us without having to fill out an online form and this trend will continue with the majority of tasks done today. It’s not going to happen a year from now, but it will happen in the coming decades. We may laugh at the times we used to have to book a flight online, or how we had to hire dozens of data analysis to make forecast projections on a business. It will eventually be done by an algorithm and where we get off will either leave us in a world where we can focus more on ourselves and less on our money problems, or a world where we are left oppressed by those who started this all and who offered us prosperity in the thriving system of capitalism.