Although I studied Cognitive Science within an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science context in grad school, coaching FIRST LEGO League has refocused my attention on robotics, automation and machine intelligence. I have been surprised how progress has been made in these fields recently and how little people are aware of these advances and the consequences likely wrought by them.
For example, most lay people I talk to think that robotics and AI are an unquestioned and unalloyed good in that they will relieve humans of dangerous, repetitive and unfulfilling work like mining, assembly lines or retail cashiering. An increasing subset of these people are aware that technology supersedes humans in a number of tasks where the human mind is less adept like rapid calculations like speed trading, undistracted driving or perhaps exhaustive and through automotive diagnostics.
Popular economics suggest that this will free up humans labor to advance up the value chain and occupy more profitable and creative roles in our economy. After all, no Artificial Intelligence program or mechanical robot will ever be able to be creative or truly independent of human supervision right? Technology is merely a tool for the ultimate knowledge worker – humans.
The problem with this line of thought is that most people overestimate their own creativity while simultaneously underestimating the potential of artificial intelligence even as the bright dividing line between the two rapidly dims (and may cross in 2045 with an event termed the Singularity). As of yet only a handful of very bright and visionary thought leaders like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawkins and Elon Musk have identified AI as the primary threat to humanity.
One example of this eroding dichotomy is how we humans are reassessing ourselves as gifted with a divine spark that uniquely set us above and apart from the many other life forms on Earth. As science elucidates the common genetics, biology and evolutionary history underpinning all life on Earth resulting in a more mechanistic view of humans on a spectrum in continuity with all lifeforms this idea of biologically-endowed human uniqueness has faded. Scientific understanding of all life mechanisms helps us understand our own faulty wiring and limitations as well as develop Artificial Intelligence to overcome these and supersede human cognition and performance.
“The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. It is based on the traditional assumption that intelligence and consciousness are inextricably linked to one another. For millions of years of evolution, this may have been true. But no longer,” – Professor Yuval Harari, Israeli historian and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
( Superintelligence by Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom)
So to the question of this post. What are these creative and high-level knowledge worker jobs that no technology could ever compete with humans?
– Journalism – No
– Legal Research and Opinion – No
– Inventing New Cooking Recipes – No
– Authoring Academic Research Papers – No
– Independently Identifying and Killing Humans – No
In fact, it is hard to image any physical or mental job that Artificial Intelligence won’t eventually be able to largely perform as well if not far better than a human. Even within the next decade or two, researchers at Oxford University estimate that 47% of all jobs today are at risk of elimination by technology. Here are two graphs summarizing which jobs are most and least vulnerable in the near future.
While new jobs potentially created by such new technologies may pay better, such jobs will probably be fewer in number and require a very elite set of human cognitive skills and/or mechanical servicing skills. In fact, it is hard to image any physical or mental job that Artificial Intelligence won’t eventually be able to largely perform as well if not better than a human.
Here are some tips to cope with this rapidly changing labor market from one TechRepublic story on the subject quoting various experts:
“The career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that’s getting cheap and plentiful.”
“To remain valuable knowledge workers in this latest machine age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee say people will need to focus on learning skills that are tricky for computers, such as ideation (the creation of new ideas), large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication.”
“This is a real frontier for entrepreneurs to develop new ways of what we call ‘Racing with machines’, combining machines and humans in new ways to allow them to do tasks they previously couldn’t have done,” said Brynjolfsson.