Guest blog contribution from Quali’s summer intern – Tejas Mattur, of Mission High School
Do the benefits of AI and automation outweigh its costs? This question is a loaded, complex one, with no real simple answer. Like any other complex matter, there are valid arguments on both sides. At the crux of it, there are really only two main arguments regarding this topic. Through this article, I will briefly outline the two stances and the evidence used to back up these stances. Lastly, I will provide my own personal view on the issue at hand.
First, the benefits. The pros of AI and automation technology are quite self-explanatory. For centuries, humans have developed technology to contribute to the advancement of society, and AI and automation are no different. From an economic standpoint, technological advancement and economic growth have always been positively correlated with each other. In fact, American economist Robert Solow recently estimated that technological change accounted for about 2/3 of growth of the U.S. economy; after allowing for growth in the labor force and capital stock. Even more interestingly, in 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes made the prediction that his grandchildren would only have to work 15 hours a week, due to the advancements of innovation, machines, and technology. Obviously, Keynes was a more than a bit off with his estimation, but he was right with his logic in that technology has made life easier for humans as a whole. Technology has obvious benefits - it allows business to increase efficiency and cut costs, which in turn helps stimulate the economy. More specific information related to the benefits of AI and IT automation can be found in my previous article, but quite simply put, these tools help businesses function at more productive rates than in the past.
Next, the drawbacks. This is where the majority of research about automation and AI over the last decade has been focused in. The rise of AI and automation has led to a growing fear across the world that human skills will soon become outdated, and that jobs will be able to be easily replaced by robots. A 2017 study by McKinsey Global Institute found that by 2030, as many as 73 million jobs in the U.S could be destroyed. The study also finds that automation projects to have significant effects worldwide, as it states that up to 800 million human workers could be displaced by this timeframe. Jobs such as telemarketers, loan officers, and cashiers have been rated the most likely to be replaced by automation. Skills once considered useful no longer seem to hold importance in the workplace. However, automation and AI don’t just affect traditional blue-collar jobs; certain IT jobs are at risk too. A study conducted by the software company Atlassian shows that 87% of workers already think that that AI will alter their jobs in some way by 2020. On the whole, these statistics seem to portray a gloomy view for jobs in the future, as they don’t bode well for many workers.
Overall, the potential negative impact that AI and automation can have on the economy in the future must not be understated. However, the solution to combat the threat of job loss due to this technology is not to run away from it or attempt to regulate it. The benefits that this technology provides are too great to ignore. So, it is clear that jobs with rote roles will inevitably be replaced by automation, but we also must recognize that automation cannot replace all employment opportunities. Jobs that require high proficiency in communication, creativity, and complex problem solving will always continue to have a high demand for human workers, because these are qualities that machines cannot mimic. As an increasing amount of blue-collar jobs are replaced, opportunities at the top of the economic ladder continue to increase. Sectors such as IT will not die out, AI and automation will only reshape them in some manner and cause workers to redefine their roles. In fact, in 2015, the number of job postings in the U.S reached its highest number ever, at 5.8 million. AI has replaced certain jobs, but the major problem behind its rise is that it has exposed the flaw in the workforce today, which is that the majority of workers do not have the necessary skills to fulfill the job opportunities of today.
We must recognize that increasing the intellectual capital of our workers is the only way to combat automation. The importance of intellectual capital is backed by some of the most successful people in our world, people like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. These thinkers harp on the importance of reading books and taking time to develop a fundamental level of knowledge, because they recognize that in this day and age, knowledge is the most valuable skill to have. As we move into the future, we must make sure that the next generation of our workforce is able to obtain the necessary education they need to be able to succeed alongside automation, not without it.
Note from Quali:
We were fortunate to have Tejas Mattur, of Mission High School, intern with the marketing department. As part of his internship, he researched the evolution of automation and its applicability to the workforce of the future, as seen from the viewpoint of a high schooler, and made some recommendations. His work is serialized into a three-part blog series published on the Quali website. Thank you to Tejas, and we wish you great things in the future!