Artificial intelligence and job loss

When was the last time a service station attendant pumped your petrol for you, or checked your oil? Think about the rapid rise of the self-serve check-out at Woolworths and Coles.


Job displacement by automated technology is no new thing. Since Henry Ford refined the automation process early last century, we have been incorporating more and more automated technology into the working world.


A US report recently suggested the effects of robot usage in the US results not only a reduction in jobs, but a reduction in wages across those industries. The researchers suggest that in the US, one more robot per thousand workers could reduce the employment to population ratio by around 0.10.34 percentage points, and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent.


With Australian wages stagnant and low-skill jobs set to become increasingly scarce, the prospect of both job losses and wage reduction could come as a double blow.


However, some worries around Artificial Intelligence (AI) are based on more than fears of large scale job losses.


Tesla and Space X chief executive Elon Musk has been vocal in his opinion that AI will not only replace human workers, but fundamentally change human civilisation.


Musk’s fears centre around his concern that humans will simply not be able to control AI once it’s become embedded in society. Musk also tweeted his concern that competiveness over AI could result in another world war.


Are we there yet?


In many industries robotics have replaced a range of jobs, particularly factory or low-skill jobs. Automated technology also encourages us to self-serve to a greater degree. Think of that self-serve checkout at the supermarket, or the act of booking an entire holiday abroad without speaking to a single person. Bots even help create higher conversions through re-marketing to you on your social spaces.


Despite bluetooth toothbrushes, smart TVs and “google home”, AI isn’t embedded in our households yet. There is a big difference between automation and artificial intelligence. Despite the rush of progress, developers and manufacturers are still experiencing problems with their products.


For example, the Huffington Post recently reported a robot security guard drowning itself in a water fountain and Facebook recently had to shut down two AI robots after they spontaneously created their own language to communicate with each other.


So, while an AI enhanced future is heading our way, perhaps the era of buying an off-the-shelf robot is still some time away.


Q – How do you think AI will change your business in the coming years?