AI: which jobs and sectors are at risk

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AI: which jobs and sectors are at risk
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AI in action

Digging deeper into how AI is beginning to impact different sectors, many construction and manufacturing positions are obvious contenders for automation. Jobs in human transport are in danger from self-driving vehicles and storage services from automated warehouses like the one being used by Ocado Technologies. Even agriculture is feeling the heat as cow-milking robots and other machines pop up around the globe.

Bookkeeping and the routine parts of accountants’ jobs are under threat from rapidly improving accounting applications. Xero, for example, is introducing machine learning to automate tasks. Sage is aiming to provide “invisible accounting” and to completely eliminate admin for business owners and managers.

Xero is piloting a machine learning tool that will speed up invoice preparation.

Processes important to the ‘health’ part of healthcare are already being automated. Google DeepMind has already developed an app to help quickly diagnose kidney disorders in patients. More accurate diagnoses are not the only advantage of automated healthcare.

A lot of people believe that the ‘care’ part of healthcare isn’t as easily automated and plenty of IT experts anticipate job safety for careers requiring emotional intelligence (EQ). Ian Pearson, leading futurologist of Futurizon and fellow of the World Academy for Arts and Science, is one of those experts.

“AI and robots can automate intellectual and physical tasks, but they won’t be human, and some tasks require the worker to be human,” said Pearson in a Futurizon blog. “A human will always be able to identify with another human on an emotional level better than a robot can.” According to Pearson, humans aren’t only better in EQ fields like therapy, but patients also prefer humans over robots to fill these roles.

Research gathered at the University of Southern California's (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies suggests otherwise, however. Ellie, an AI-powered virtual therapist, is part of a virtual-reality program at USC called SimSensei. The program aims to treat people with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ellie is programmed to detect and analyse verbal and nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions and eye contact that are linked with these conditions, offering more accurate diagnoses of emotions and mental illnesses. Test subjects who talked to Ellie told researchers ‘her’ voice was comforting and that talking to a computer made them feel less judged than when they spoke with a human therapist.

In education, computerised tutors relying on AI technologies like those provided by Third Space Learning are proof that AI is already infiltrating education. With more students leaning towards online learning environments anyway, there may not be many education jobs left to steal. Distance learning saves money and offers students the flexibility to complete work whenever and wherever they want. Plus, it works better. A report from the SRI International for the Department of Education found that, on average, “students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction”.

Still, there could be people who will always prefer a traditional classroom with a real teacher over a computer program. But what if students can’t tell the difference? Jill Watson, a teaching assistant at the Georgia Institute of Technology, taught a class of graduate students for 5 months without any of them realising she was a robot. Jill answered questions and assisted students with their projects through casual email responses that were indistinguishable from those sent by human TAs for the class.

Even positions based on the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines are in danger. The global survey report estimates that in roughly 88 years, AIs will be researching and developing themselves.

Nevertheless, the STEM disciplines are becoming increasingly important. Representatives of Google’s AI research unit, DeepMind, told an inquiry by the UK government's Science and Technology Committee: “[One of the] most important steps we must take is [ensuring] that current and future workforces are sufficiently skilled and well-versed in digital skills and technologies, particularly STEM subjects.”

Who's safe?

Remember the jobs that our parents told us not to pursue? The ones that seemed like they might actually be enjoyable? As it turns out, you should’ve just gone for it. Few argue that robots will replace human artists, actors, athletes or musicians.

UK non-profit Nesta is publishing a report that explains why. “Tasks which involve a high degree of human manipulation and human perception – subtle tasks – other things being equal will be more difficult to automate,” report co-author Hasan Bakhshi told Fortune.

Bakhshi identifies creativity as a bottleneck to automating work, meaning that jobs which require it “have a very high degree of resistance to automation.”

DeLaval’s robotic milking system.

There are already robots composing and playing their own music, but people don’t want to listen to it. It's fascinating that a robot can play chess well, but if that robot is unbeatable then it's not really a game. Sports and games are entertaining because they are innately competitive and unpredictable. If one robot can be programmed to paint like Picasso, then fifty robots can be programmed the same way. People are different -- there can only ever be one Freddie Mercury. AIs may be considered successful, but they will never be considered talented.

How do I avoid redundancy?

For those of us who aren’t athletes or artists, articles like this can be frustrating. There must be something we can do! People working in fields vulnerable to automation have two options.

You could be the type of person that accepts the inevitable, resenting technology so passionately that one day you intentionally run over your own smartphone with your car – or you can rise to the challenge and retrain yourself.

You can focus on factors that can’t be automated – creativity and uniqueness – and develop those traits as they relate to your job. Consider the rise in automation as an opportunity to explore what makes you uncloneable.

Although AI research may pose a threat to your job, it also has benefits. The majority of AI technology currently being used isn’t intended to replace workers, but rather to augment them.

Don Schuerman, chief technology officer of Pegasystems, explains the ways in which the influx of AI will change the nature of the workplace.

“AI will take the repetitive nature out of jobs – or take the ‘robot’ out of the human,” Schuerman said. “It will add intelligence and insight that employees otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s important to remember that the best chess player in the world is not a human or a computer: it’s a human and computer playing together.”

This feature includes AI-related content on the employment impact, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and PwC’s report that originally appeared at IT Pro.

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