AI will take some jobs, but mass unemployment isn’t inevitable


The staggering recent progress in artificial intelligence (AI) has left many fearing for their jobs. The ominous drumbeats grew louder earlier this month when Geoffrey Hinton, the godfather of AI, resigned from Google and expressed his concerns about the potential of the technology to upend the job market, just as IBM put the brakes on nearly 7,800 jobs that could be replaced by AI and automation over time. Last week, BT announced it would cut up to 55,000 jobs by 2030, with about 10,000 predicted to be replaced by AI.

These announcements are not surprising: if businesses are to survive in our market economy, they must adapt to these technological shifts to remain competitive and profitable.

However, despite the predictions of doom, history offers reasons to be optimistic about AI and its impact on work and employment. Jobs have changed and evolved throughout history, which has resulted in the creation of new professions that were previously inconceivable. For most of the 20th century, typing was seen as a desired and decent job, and typists were in high demand.

As computers grew in popularity and typing got easier, the demand fell away, and the profession nearly became extinct. But, thanks to the same trends, the demand for web designers, graphic designers and copy editors increased. The advent of the computer gave birth to countless sectors and transformed our way of life (mostly) for the better. I believe that AI can repeat this very trick, if we get it right.


Cita, Negocio, Arquitecto, Oficina


What does that look like? For a start, it means understanding which jobs and industries are actually at risk, and how AI will become part of them. AI can automate tasks such as data entry and administrative operations, which puts jobs that involve repetitive data input and basic decision-making at risk. Interestingly, the banking and financial industries, which are generally seen as white-collar jobs, may see a decrease in demand for data analysts and risk assessors as AI systems become more efficient at handling large amounts of data.

Manufacturing and logistics jobs seem an obvious target for AI, as automation is used more and more to save on costs. Jobs in transportation, assembly-line activities and repetitive manual work can be automated to some extent. However, the technology still has limitations which require regular maintenance and a balance between AI/robots and human workers. If jobs are poorly designed or if there is an imbalance between AI and human workers, it could result in dissatisfied customers, decreased revenue (especially in the current cost of living crisis), and even business closures.

Two months ago, a restaurant named Robotazia in Milton Keynes that had robotic waiters closed down due to rising costs and recruitment issues. We need to bear in mind that while automation and robotics can bring novelty and efficiency to certain industries, the overall impact on jobs can be complex and multifaceted, with problems including maintenance costs, recruitment challenges and the need to adapt to changing economic situations.

Another area we need to watch is customer service. Chatbots are already being implemented in this area, but their inability to understand complex scenarios can result in service failures and unhappy customers. Human support should be maintained alongside these chatbots, especially in industries such as hospitality, where human interaction, empathy and emotional/social intelligence are vital to customer loyalty.


Trabajo, Oficina, Equipo, Empresa


In the healthcare industry, AI has been used to aid medical diagnostics, radiology interpretation and patient monitoring. However, while AI can help healthcare professionals with data analysis, imaging and decision-making, current AI is limited in performing difficult tasks that require fine hand-eye coordination, and the physical execution of such tasks is still reliant on human capabilities.

In all of these industries, AI and automation are most useful in conjunction with human roles – where people can offer the complex decision-making skills or human touch that the machines lack. However, some jobs will still be lost, which is why governments, corporations and educational institutions should collaborate to offer comprehensive retraining programmes and job placement support to help displaced people transition to more future-proof roles similar to their own, or to other industries.

Policymakers should establish tailored initiatives to assist and safeguard people in high-risk industries. Moreover, a focus on lifelong learning is essential. Governments should promote education and training programmes that provide citizens with the skills essential to prosper in an AI-driven economy – which includes encouraging AI literacy, supporting critical thinking and promoting continuous upskilling and reskilling.

We need our leaders to take this moment seriously, act quickly and, importantly, balance this breakthrough’s potential benefits with the immediate human cost. We can manage the revolutionary influence of AI while assuring a positive future that benefits individuals and society as a whole.

LeackStat 2023