Rise of machines: Are we staring at a jobless future?

Friday, November 3 2017

Future Tech Image Credit Continue reading Technology is playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives. It is advancing business, science and lifestyle at a pace that we couldn't even imagine a few years ago. But the more we're trying to automate and systematise - thanks to the emergence of technologies like big data, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation, machine learning, etc - the more we're likely to see rising unemployment and underemployment, falling real wages and stagnant living standards. So, are we staring at a jobless future? The buzz As per a recent CB Insights report, AI is expected to put 10 million US jobs at risk in the next five to 10 years. It said that automation is coming after jobs, from fast food workers to accountants. The next phase of technological evolution is already underway - advanced neural networks that learn, adapt and respond to situations, the report added. Blue collar jobs might be the first to get affected, but even professionals such as diagnosticians and customer service representatives could also be at risk. Manufacturing is one area where we've already seen robots and automation eliminating human jobs, but it's hard to think of an industry that will be left unaffected as such technologies become more affordable and widespread. Research analysts are the most likely employees to find themselves working with-or being replaced by-robots, according to a recent survey by Greenwich Associates. By next year, some 75% of banks and financial firms will either explore or implement artificial intelligence technologies, harnessing a variety of digital services to extract insights from mountains of data. While AI is probably near the peak of its hype cycle, several factors have helped it gain traction in recent years, according to Greenwich. Billions of images and documents are now available online for trainingcomputers to spot patterns and other high-level tasks. Advances in graphical processing units, which are adept at the kind of data crunching required by AI, are making sifting through daunting datasets much easier. The cloud has also made it cheaper for researchers and startups to boost their computing power to service sophisticated AI-enabled systems. Technology at play Recently Sebastian Thrun, a well-known personality in the world of AI and professor at Stanford University, published a research paper that claims to detect the cancerous cell with 90% accuracy. On the other hand, human-based diagnosis could have an accuracy of just about 50%. This shows that one may not need experts to diagnose and come to conclusions anymore, if there is enough domain data to train machines. Besides healthcare, sectors such as medicine, gaming and software are also seeing immense use cases of AI. For instance, researchers at DeepMind (acquired by Google in 2014) have created a neural network that learns how to play video games in a fashion similar to those of humans, as well as a Neural Turing Machine, or a neural network that may be able to access an external memory like a conventional Turing machine, resulting in a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain. The machine built by the DeepMind team recently won one of the toughest Chinese games, AlphaGO, against world champion, Lee Sedol, by a score of 4-1. Other sectors, too, are witnessing action. Assistive messaging and speech technologies, such as Google's Messaging App and Facebook M, are already starting to create a buzz in the tech industry and have great scope to automate customer support jobs in the near future. Not all's lost yet While it may be true that certain kinds of jobs, or tasks within jobs, can be completely left to machines, the scope is quite limited, at least for the time being. A report in January from the consulting firm McKinsey concluded that less than 5 per cent of occupations were likely to be entirely automated. Another report released recently by the education company Pearson, Oxford University and the Nesta Foundation found that just one in five workers are in occupations that will shrink by 2030. On the contrary, new research has suggested that firms which are investing in smart, automated and self-teaching systems are more likely to be creating jobs with it. A study conducted by Capgemini on 1,000 organisations which have deployed AI-based systems found that four out of five have created more jobs. Additionally, two thirds of respondents said there have been no reduction in overall jobs due to AI. The way forward then, for companies, will be to highlight the importance of 'reskilling' as key to unlocking the power of transformative AI technology within an organisation. By Kunal Doley