Merriam Webster’s Definition of Artificial Intelligence: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”
We live in a time of incredible technological advancement and momentous change. With the rapid proliferation of new technology in society and business today, the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) has reached a fever pitch. The 2017 AI Index found that the number of US startups developing AI systems has increased 14x since 2000, while VC investment in AI startups has increased 6x in the same timeframe. Companies understand that transformation is inevitable: Reports indicate that artificial intelligence will affect 38% of US jobs by the 2030s, while Gartner estimates that one in five workers engaged in mostly nonroutine tasks will rely on AI to help with their job by 2022.
Despite the buzz, the rise of modern AI is not without its detractors (just ask Elon Musk). As artificial intelligence has become a growing trend in society, concerns have risen around the role of AI and machine learning today. Leading technologist Kai-Fu Lee estimates that AI will “replace 50 percent of human jobs in the next 10 years.”
Like it or not, the robots are coming.
However, while AI is not without its potential drawbacks, we are far from creating Skynet or the dreaded “singularity.” Like Lee, many of those who fear AI simply fail to recognize the benefits that accompany this new technology. Already today, artificial intelligence provides businesses and employees with a better tool to accomplish repetitive, time-consuming tasks. In the years to come, AI will not only help free us from routine tasks, it will also help create new industries and roles that will shape our future.
Some Historical Context
This technological paradigm shift is not a new phenomenon. From the rise of agriculture to the Industrial Revolution, new technology has historically contributed to fear of replacement. In each case humanity has adapted, and for every job replaced by technology, another vertical has been created. As Marc Andreessen points out, there is an important caveat to the idea of AI taking our jobs: it presupposes that we humans are not creative or intelligent enough to create new industries. If our history is any indication, humanity’s incredible capacity to adapt will continue to create new roles that complement our innovation.
Fundamentally, this technological evolution is no different from past transformations. Advances in technology have already created new jobs and will continue to grow the demand for new services and skills. We have evidence: Over the previous five decades, automation hasn’t reduced the number of jobs available in 18 advanced economies, including the U.S.–in fact, it helped increase total employment, according to a new paper recently released by the Brookings Institution. Although it may be hard to imagine jobs that don’t yet exist, the technology we create tomorrow will continue to stimulate the production of new industries and roles beyond what we can imagine today.
Analysts agree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are half a million computing jobs unfilled in the United States today with that number set to double by 2024. The same report found that the app economy added over 110,000 software application developer jobs to the U.S. workforce between 2014-2016. In its “Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work” report, Gartner found that AI will generate 2.3 million jobs by 2020, exceeding the 1.8 million that it will replace. By 2025, net new jobs created in relation to AI will reach two million, including highly-skilled, management positions as well as entry-level and low-skilled jobs. The predicted net gain of two million AI-related jobs over the next eight years paints a far rosier picture than the fully automated future predicted by Kai-Fu Lee and other prominent technologists. Jobs are not disappearing; the future of work is simply changing.
The Future of Blue-Collar Work
It is popular (and easy) to believe that AI will be especially effective in automating and replacing blue collar jobs like manufacturing, truck driving and of course coal mining. But as we continue to develop groundbreaking innovations like AI, new skills and roles will become necessary to create, maintain, improve and use this new technology. Skills like coding, defined by Techopedia as “the primary method for allowing intercommunication between humans and machines,” will increase in demand and importance along with the rise of artificial intelligence. In recognition of this trend, a recent Wired article predicted that coding will become the blue-collar work of the future.
The article references Bit Source, an organization that is successfully helping change the future of work by trading coal for code. The software development company is a literal blue-collar retraining program that teaches coal miners to work as programmers across industries. Based in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Bit Source teaches former blue-collar coal miners and industry support workers how to code in order to adapt to the shifting demands of the modern workplace. It received 950 applications for its first 11 positions, and its programmers are hard at work on 68 current projects. “We’re not shipping coal out of here anymore; we’re shipping code,” says Bit Source manager John Shoehand. “The broadband’s our highway, our shipping lanes, our trains.”
From coding to the IoT to data collection, the downstream employment effects of artificial intelligence are manifold. These jobs are not just replacements- they are better, more accessible alternatives to modern-day blue-collar work. According to a study on coding, “half of all programming openings are in industries outside of technology…(and) the national average salary for IT jobs is double the national average for all jobs: $81,000 annually.”
In order to succeed in this new landscape driven by AI, we need to harness artificial intelligence and learn to embrace the future. We must avoid a futile battle against progress and instead use this new technology to augment our existing processes and ultimately create new industries and better jobs.
After all, we have done it before.