Artificial intelligence is about to go mainstream in the enterprise, which means that a lot of the jobs currently done by humans will soon be done by machines. But will this lead to the massive wave of unemployment that some doomsayers predict, or will it produce a new era of employee productivity similar to what has greeted previous forms of automation?
Even the most enthusiastic AI boosters admit that jobs will be lost during the transition, but they also predict a net gain in employment as the technology produces new markets, new businesses and perhaps entirely new industries.
Jobs in AI
The goal for today’s worker, then, should be to get on the right side of AI by positioning themselves for the jobs that will likely thrive in an AI-driven economy, and obviously, among the most in-demand positions will be those that work with AI directly.
According to UIPath, the most commonly advertised AI job at the moment is software engineer, which represents about 8.48 percent of the total. This is followed by data scientist and, perhaps not surprisingly, interns, since many firms undoubtedly want to skill up younger employees in the ways of AI. Other top positions include intelligence specialist, data analyst and both sales and product engineer. Regionally, the biggest demand for all AI-related skills will be in China, with an estimated 12,000+ positions in the offering, followed by the United States at nearly 7,500, mostly concentrated in the technology hubs in California, Washington, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York. (To learn about the duties of a software engineer, see Job Role: Software Engineer.)
But what about those in non-technical roles, or even technical jobs that lend themselves to hands-on, rote management functions? Sadly, most of these will fade way, says venture capitalist Sam Altman, but the good news is economic activity could jump by 50 percent or more, which means that even with AI there probably won’t be enough people to fill all the new jobs being created. And since these jobs will require high degrees of intuition and creativity, attributes that AI is not likely to acquire any time soon, tomorrow’s jobs will be more lucrative and personally fulfilling.
Still, as Altman noted to the New York Times’ New Work Summit last month:
“Entire classes of jobs will go away and not come back. There’s a lot of things we have to figure out – how people find meaning, community, but a lack of material abundance will not be a problem.”
Catching the Wave
No matter what jobs remain for humans in an AI world, they will likely require new skill sets to leverage the power of the technology. Sales people, for instance, will have to know how to ask the right questions to analytics engines, and then critique the results to ensure they don’t reflect bias or incomplete data. Medical personnel will have to understand what AI is capable of and what should remain under the purview of human oversight, particularly as AI starts to encroach on specialties like radiology and pharmacology.
Already, however, today’s knowledge worker views AI as an asset to their jobs rather than a potential threat. A recent study by Accenture showed that more than two-thirds of enterprise employees believe AI will open up new opportunities and that acquiring AI skills will be a priority over the next three to five years. The challenge, however, will be in determining exactly what those skills will be. After all, AI will do much of the mundane number-crunching that currently generates high salaries, so in the future it could very well be that today’s highly prized math and engineering skills could give way to more creative endeavors like literature and design.
And this is assuming that the very notion of a “job” will remain the same. The Blockchain Council notes that AI is already generating “passive income” for large corporations by mining cryptocurrencies, conducting split-second microtransactions and even automating the sale of goods and services. There is no reason to think this cannot work for individuals as well. At the same time, AI stands to dramatically lower the cost of living by removing the majority of human labor from the supply chain. If these predictions come true, a personal intelligent agent working 24/7 might be enough to provide a comfortable living for large swaths of the population. The future job, then, will be figuring out how to train AI to make money for you. (With a drastic workforce shift, will we need a drastic income shift as well? Learn more in Is the AI Revolution Going to Make Universal Income a Necessity?)
It is almost impossible to see AI’s arrival in the workplace without a significant amount of disruption to the status quo. Tales are already circulating of fully automated factories churning out thousands of goods with only a few dozen workers. But that has been the pattern of civilization since long before the industrial age, when the first farmer to hitch a pair of oxen to a plow realized he could now do the work of 100 field hands or more.
With every advance, the trend has been the same: More productivity produces more employment and a higher standard of living. As the AI era unfolds, today’s workers should remain mindful of the fact that, once unleashed, the technology genie cannot be put back into the bottle, so it makes more sense to prepare for the future rather than lament the past.