Myth or Reality: “AI will steal my job”.

Artificial Intelligence is a scientific domain that is able to automate many tasks, aiming at making peoples’ lives easier. How far could this automation go? Is there a risk of machines taking over human jobs?

McKinsey conducted a study in 2017 about the impact of technology on jobs, skills and wages[1]. They predicted that 800 million workers worldwide could lose their jobs by … 2030 !

The World Economic Forum in its 2018 Future of Jobs report[2], corroborates the McKinsey study, forecasting that machines will take 47% of jobs in the USA within the next 20 years.

On the other hand, although 75 million jobs could disappear due to evolutions in the labor force, the same WEF report predicts that there will be 133 million jobs created, and McKinsey indicates that less than 5% of jobs are fully automatable. This means labor is not (yet) over for humans (although I honestly do not know if this is a good or bad news 🙂 ).

In 2013, two researchers from Oxford University examined how susceptible jobs are to computerization[3]. They used a Gaussian process classifier to estimate the probability for 702 jobs to be replaced by computers. It is interesting to note that they predicted 47% of US jobs to be at stake, as WEF reported 5 years later…

A number of articles have used their conclusions to indicate which jobs are at risk and which are not. I particularly like the following infographic from “Give a Grad a Go”:

Some funny job comparators, predicting the future of jobs, have even been developed following the Oxford study: https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/

As most studies concentrate on the US labor market, the McKinsey study went a bit further by introducing some geographical information into their analysis. It is interesting and sometimes surprising to see the same activity being under strain in one region of the world, and disappearing in another.

Jobs likely to be automated are the ones that are purely routine with a single activity.

Machines will certainly assist humans for painful tasks, without completely replacing them due to the task complexity requiring contextual analysis.

Jobs requiring creativity, human-contact or multitasking seem to be safe.

Myth or Reality?

It is unquestionable that Artificial Intelligence will help automate a number of routine tasks, which are performed by humans today, undoubtedly affecting the labor market.

However, job automation will also create new types of jobs, which are equally a number of employment opportunities that will require people to adapt.

There are positive and negative aspects in automating jobs, very well described in this article[4] from “give a grad a go”.

The ‘Pros’ are safety, gains in speed, productivity and quality, because robots are faster, work longer and are more predictable than humans. In some cases, job automation also provides more job satisfaction for humans, especially for manual, repetitive or arduous tasks.

The downsides are the investment and maintenance costs, robots being less intelligent and lacking emotions, and of course unemployment.

Overall, this shift might simply be an evolution of our professional environment; just as steam machines and electricity forced us to modify our working habits.

As AI is good at automating repetitive and painful tasks, it is probably a good thing, as long as humans are using machines and not the opposite!

Thanks

I would like to thank warmly Jean-Eric Michallet who supported me writing this series of articles, and Kate Margetts who took time to read and correct the articles.

I would also like to give credit to the following people, who inspired me directly or indirectly:

  • Patrick GROS – INRIA Rhône-Alpes director
  • Bertrand Brauschweig – INRIA AI white book coordinator
  • Patrick Albert – AI Vet’ Bureau at AFIA
  • Julien Mairal – INRIA Grenoble
  • Eric Gaussier – LIG Director & President of MIAI

[1]https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages

[2]http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf

[3]https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

[4]https://www.giveagradago.com/news/2019/11/will-robots-take-my-job/449

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