In a world of astounding technological advances, where only a few years are required for previous technology to become viewed as outdated, automation and the development of AI are leading to questions: am I at risk of being replaced by a robot? Will my next taxi be a self-driving car? Should I start campaigning for a universal base income to guard against an ‘automation apocalypse’?
A report released by Citibank collaborating with the university of Oxford in February 2016 found it probable that computer capital would replace 35% of jobs in the UK, and we are lucky when the prodigious proportion of 77% of jobs in China are considered. The most vulnerable have been labelled across many industries and surprisingly, they are not the low-skilled workers in manual jobs as opposed to the highly-qualified white-collar employees, but those with the most routinely work. An example is offered in the field of radiology, where Enlitic’s computer system is 50% better at classifying malignant tumours from CT scans than the most specialised radiologists and has a false-negative rate of zero compared to a human’s 7%. In light of this, Andrew Ng – a highly trained radiologist – has claimed he is at a greater risk of replacement than his executive assistant due to the extensive variety in her role. Alongside radiologists, the most susceptible to ‘technological unemployment’ have been identified as loan officers, information clerks, receptionists, taxi drivers, legal assistants, security guards and fast food cooks, all due to the fact their jobs are routine enough to be completed by AI. Alternatively, employment requiring creativity, social perception and manipulation are deemed the most secure, involving choreographers, make-up artists, mental health workers, surgeons, lawyers and primary school teachers.
Initially, this information seems alarming, socially destructive and immoral. We may accept that progress is inevitable and the pursuit of higher productivity will force humanity to further develop technologies that are infinitely more capable of tasks than humans, but that does not constitute the moral arguments against AI. What does employing a robot over a human being signal about a person’s worth? Is a world of extensive unemployment and minimal salaries due to an oversupply of labour worth the increased economic growth? Should we really have the right to tell a person they cannot strive for a certain vocation, despite obvious talent, because a robot is more efficient?
However, before panicking over mass redundancy and becoming incensed over the imminent reduction of employment opportunities, it is important to consider the opposing side of the argument.
Most people, especially the younger generation, welcome and embrace technology into their everyday lives. Generally, we consider it to be fascinating, helpful and enhancing of productivity and quality of life. Some direct attention to the fact that the same threat appeared during the industrial revolution and worries mirroring those we have today never became realised. AI is also more likely to increase the amount of available jobs instead of deplete options, especially in the field of technology, and one could even consider Amazon: they use machines to maintain low prices, meaning the company can continue to grow which in turn creates more jobs.
Ultimately, while the rapid development of technology can be overwhelming and make the future appear uncertain, preparation for a time when job advertisements have the label ‘Humans need not apply’ is somewhat excessive and unwarranted. All evidence suggests technology complements our work, making it easier and more efficient to the point where some jobs are unimaginable without it. As a student with the prospects of university hanging heavily over my head, I would not base my decisions of a possible career on how likely it is to become automated. Instead, embracing technology and its benefits as supplements to employment appears the most sensible course of action.