How machines will revolutionise the workplace

Cyber chef: This android called Andrew is a cook at the Henn-na restaurant in Nagasaki, Japan.

Will technology ruin or improve our careers? Machines are transforming a whole host of industries — from accountancy to the priesthood. Here are five innovations the world of work is facing …

1/ AI will replace many jobs. By 2034, 47% of jobs could be lost to Artificial Intelligence. Professor Moshe Vardi, of the US Rice University, claims that in the future machines will “outperform humans at almost any task”. Jobs at risk include accountants, taxi drivers, and even journalists. Priests could also be endangered — a Roman Catholic app called Confession already offers its users “personalised examination of conscience”.

2/ Machines will also create work. The World Economic Forum predicts that machines will create two million jobs as soon as 2020. A new generation of medical robots will need operators. Businesses and governments will need legions of cyber security experts. And creative engineers will be called upon to construct the exhilarating alternative universes which virtual reality promises.

3/ Liberation from dull administration. In a 2017 survey 94% of business executives claimed that automation will increase demand for soft skills like collaboration, creativity, and problem solving. With robots excellent at doing mundane tasks like data crunching, checking contracts, and filing taxes, human workers will have more time for dreaming up new business strategies and creative projects.

4/ Humans and robots will collaborate. AI entrepreneur Gabby Nizri envisions a “hybrid” workplace that uses “human and machine intelligence”. Machines already work with lawyers — city firms using AI to plough through thousands of documents in minutes. And a company called Wevorce uses algorithms to predict how divorce cases will develop. Human lawyers use these predictions to efficiently work out settlements.

5/ Creative careers are under threat. Picasso. Dali. Hepworth — visionary artists whose genius could never be repeated. Not for much longer. This year scientists developed an AI system which learnt to create its own art. When its paintings were exhibited alongside work from human artists, people could not tell the difference. Meanwhile Google's Magenta art robot has already composed original music.

So will machines ruin or improve our working lives?

Day job bots

“Robots will destroy careers,” argue some. Job creation will be far outweighed by loss. And it is not only low skilled work. White collar jobs in banks, law firms, and businesses could simply disappear. If so, the middle class will be destroyed and governments will have to deal with millions of jobless. Is this a future to be excited about?

“Humanity will adapt and flourish,” counter others. The future is about opportunity. Careers we are yet to dream of will take off, and traditional work will be more efficient. From artists to bankers, there is no limit to what we can learn from machines.

You Decide

  1. Will robots be doing most jobs by 2050?
  2. Can a robot produce a work of art?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are the head of a robotics company and have been asked to design a new robot. What will your robot look like? What tasks will it be able to perform? What will it be called? Sketch out your design and label all of its exciting features.
  2. Do some research into AI and robotics. Your task is to gain a sense of what jobs technology is replacing right now. What industries are robots particularly flourishing in? Are there any surprising jobs that robots are being put to? How much more effective than humans are the machines you have found?

Some People Say...

“We’re going to become caretakers for robots. That’s what the next generation of work will be.”

Gray Scott

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Robots already exist in a number of fields. Moley Robotics have created a fully automated robot chef. In 2016 electronics company Foxconn replaced 60,000 Chinese workers with machines. And millions of operations have been performed by surgeons using da Vinci medical robots since 2000.
What do we not know?
According to a Pew Research survey 65% of Americans think that robots will do most human work by 2050. Yet the same survey found that 80% of Americans believe that their own job will be safe from automation. In truth, we do not know the exact extent to which AI will affect levels of employment. There may be jobs in the future that scientists and executives have not predicted.

Word Watch

47%
According to a 2013 study from the Oxford Martin School, by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne.
Accountants
According to the 2013 Oxford study (above), accounting jobs have a 94% chance of becoming automated.
Taxi drivers
The same study gives taxi drivers have an 89% chance of losing their jobs to automation.
Journalists
The Associated Press publish 3,000 stories every three months written by Artificial Intelligence. This year Google announced its Digital News Initiative — a fund set up to increase the production of machine-generated news articles.
Two million
According to the 2016 report The Future of Jobs. It also states that 7.1m jobs will be lost in the same time, leading to a net loss of 5.1m.
94%
According to a 2017 report by ServiceNow entitled Today’s State of Work: At the Breaking Point. The survery interviewed over 1,850 business leaders.
Scientists
Study led by researchers from Rutgers University and Facebook’s AI Research lab, and including a College of Charleston art historian.
Magenta
Last year the robot produced a 90 second piano melody after being given just four notes.

Subjects

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