Thoughts on Entering the AI Age

The development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the next incarnation of our ever evolving digital landscape. But what does this mean and what impact will it have on society?

Some believe that it will have a massive impact on the employment rate, and others disagree. Personally I am on the side that it will affect the employment rate. We are already seeing jobs being affected by automation and while it may not be true AI, as they are not thinking, these changes have started and it would take a massive effort to reverse the trend. Think about self service machines that are appearing in many big box retailers, everyone one of these are doing the job that a few years ago was being completed by a person. Self-serve checkouts exist for one reason, to make the companies more money. Although it has resulted in an increase in theft, intentional or otherwise, these companies have determined that the resulting loss to profit is more cost effective than standard employment. Essentially it is a numbers game and one in which researchers are combating with interesting techniques.

Again while it is not AI, but rather a sophisticated multimedia device, the programming involved does seem to be teaching the program to ‘learn’, in that it may be able to predict what items are often bought together and perhaps suggest meal plans and so on to increase sales – this is something that a traditional server might not have been able to offer. However the ability for a program to ‘learn’ does not make it AI, a true AI machine would be capable of deciding if it wanted to be stuck somewhere selling people grapes. These machines are replacing a workforce, however it is nothing more than a progression of consistent workforce automation.

So here we have that machines are already replacing some jobs, but this is not something new. Machines have been replacing jobs since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Think about the job you currently are doing, does it have elements that are being completed by automation? Even the act of pouring your morning coffee has elements of automation, as at one point in time a person had to milk cows and this has long disappeared as an employable skill with the invention of the milking machine. How about a bank teller? When was the last time you walked into the bank for something as simple as making a withdrawal of funds? ATM’s (automated teller machine) have been doing this job since the 60’s. Ever bought a drink form a machine? These have existed since the 1860’s. So you can see it is a slow progression but it is certainly nothing new – jobs come and go, automation makes things easier in general.

AI and further development of automation will affect the workforce. But it is not something that any working person should be concerned about. Times change and probably one of the key indicators of intelligence is the ability to change and develop. I for one am looking forward to a time, where we have driver-less trucks on the road and completely automated shopping facilities. I believe with out the constraints of completing mundane tasks, the human population will become an artistic utopia where people will have more time available for self expression, and as long as it is not hurting anyone else, this will continue to be a great time to be alive.

How do you feel about AI and automation, does it make you fear the future or excited to see how far it will go?

Feature Image: robot by Jem Henderson (CC BY-ND 2.0)