This article was published on April 4, 2018

Screw it, AI can have our jobs

Screw it, AI can have our jobs
Ailsa Sherrington
Story by

Ailsa Sherrington

Former Social Media Manager, TNW

Ailsa Sherrington is a former content marketer at TNW. Ailsa Sherrington is a former content marketer at TNW.

While Facebook keeps goofing up and our friends are spying on us, it’s a good time to talk about the positives of technology. While everyone is worrying about AI stealing their job, there’s no denying that it can also make our lives a lot easier. So as TNW Conference is fast approaching, let’s ask some questions about the future applications of AI that we’ll be discussing at the Machine:Learners track.

Insanely best case scenario

In a perfect utopia, a typical day would begin with your home AI system (think Iron Man’s Jarvis) opening the blinds, informing you of the weather, the news — whatever floats your boat. You enjoy a healthy breakfast of fruit that’s been mass-harvested by robots and put on the warm clothes picked out for you because it looks like it’ll be a chilly day. Coffee in hand, you step into the driverless car that’ll take you to your kid’s soccer game because hey, you don’t need a job anymore; global basic income exists. You take her out for ice cream later, hear about her day — all that good wholesome stuff you didn’t have time for before. At night, while Jarvis sings her to sleep you resume painting that landscape and sip on some sweet, sweet wine. Ah, the AI life.

So that’s the fairytale version of things. In reality, achieving this standard of living requires us to stay more alert, to ensure that we retain control over our jobs, freedom, and relationships. But if we do our due diligence, the fairytale version isn’t far out of reach. There are great advancements being made in AI that will rapidly improve our standards of living. The question isn’t so much whether it’ll improve our lives, though — it’s how AI will do it.

AI frees up time

The most immediate benefit to AI is how it can free up time for other things — both in the office and elsewhere. At work, IBM’s Watson Assistant is a great example of this. While it deals with answering customer queries, you have more time to focus on other forms of the customer experience. This is just the beginning — companies are rolling out new ways to use the robot, like learning about employee personalities to allocate work that suits their strengths. (FYI: Cassie Kozyrkov from Google will be talking about HR applications like this at the Machine:Learners track).

Outside of the office, having tedious decisions made for us creates time for more fun activities. For example, I’d like to see my home AI order my groceries so I don’t have to spend my Saturdays being shoved in a crowded supermarket. On a larger scale, driverless cars eliminate the need to focus on the road. Freeing up time for more important things (work, relationships, exercise) could decrease stress and ultimately, increase happiness.

There’s another side to the coin, of course. What to do we actually do with this free time? In the workplace, it gives us freedom to focus on more human tasks, but outside of work, more free time doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. It’s human nature to have goals that keep us busy, and I’m not so sure that having more time to watch Netflix is going to make us happy in the long run. It could leave us saturated with advertisements in those driverless cars, it could make us lazy, complacent. The problem with time is that it’s wholly dependent on how we spend it — so how can we ensure that we use it effectively?

What about my job?

AI also has the potential to make a real impact on our planet. It can solve the fundamental issues humans haven’t been able to solve on our own, like world hunger and peace. Robots could plant, water, and harvest all our food — and farmers could use knowledge garnered from AI to ensure those crops are successful. AI could maybe serve as a future president, because, well, it’ll probably be an improvement. It could also keep us alive longer, with surgery-performing and cancer-detecting robots.

This inevitably raises the debate of AI taking our jobs, going beyond free-time in the office to just pushing us out altogether. However, the fear of technology taking people’s jobs is almost as old as time. The industrial revolution took manufacturing jobs; journalists were supposed to be obsolete after the internet boom.

The truth is that we’ve always been great at adapting with the rise of technology and we probably will adapt to AI just as well. Some say that AI might even result in more jobs and that AI is actually the next step in human evolution. But we can’t ignore the fact that AI is technological revolution on an unprecedented scale. It is realistic that robots could change our job – the question is whether we let them. On a corporate scale, there’s not much to be done when we think about the cost of AI over the cost of human employees.

With the idea of global basic income being thrown around, this might be an excellent way for us to reimagine what work means to us. Let them take our jobs — it doesn’t have to spell doom — we just adapt as we’ve done so many times before. There are other ways that we can control the future value of work. If robots are making all of our stuff, the value of artisan goods will increase exponentially. It’s already happening at your local farmer’s market, and there’s a chance that if we keep valuing handmade crafts then we can maintain a small workforce — it’ll just be a lot more leisurely. (BTW: changing jobs and industries is another theme we’ll be exploring in more detail at the Machine:Learners track in May).

AI Utopia: What’s next?

Let’s imagine that we’ve somehow made it out on top — we don’t need work, it hasn’t destroyed our lives, and we’re all quite happy. How do we keep ourselves busy? How do we value human contact? More importantly, how do we keep making sure the robots don’t rebel? Battlestar Galactica still keeps me up at night. Essentially, we need to be thinking way further than the immediate future. The struggle doesn’t stop if and when we find a balance between AI and humanity. The way we redefine the core values of society is still so unknown, as is the control we protect over the robots themselves.

That leaves us with the Machine:Learners track at TNW Conference in May. We don’t know where the future is headed, and we certainly can’t comprehend how to ensure we end up satisfied. The one thing we can do is keep asking these questions, which is exactly what the leaders of tech will be doing at TNW2018. At the Machine:Learners track, you’ll be listening to speakers from Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb share their take on all the themes mentioned in this article, to give you an inside look at where the industry leaders think the future is headed.

The Next Web’s 2018 conference is just a few months away, and it’ll be ??. Find out all about our tracks here.