In the next decade, it is a virtual certainty that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will begin to replace increasing numbers of labourers. The outsourcing of labour to machines will alter the skills and competencies which are valuable in a competitive labour market. At AER’s event on Artificial Intelligence, speakers will address this topic, highlighting the challenges and solutions that exist for regions as the skills and competences that are important in society begin to change.
Changes in the Workforce
In late 2016, Amazon debuted ‘Amazon Go’, its first checkout free grocery store. With Amazon Go consumers were simply able to walk out of the store with their goods and have the charge added to their online accounts. While the store demonstrated Amazon’s growing capabilities in Artificial Intelligence, it also offered a glimpse at the future of work, a world in which human labourers are made increasingly obsolete. As highly intelligent machines continue to to play a larger role in our daily lives, society’s labour force will be radically transformed. According to an estimate made by Rice University Professor Moshe Vardi, 50% of current jobs could be lost to automation. As AI rapidly progresses in its ability to perform physical and analytical tasks, the skills that were once vital to obtaining a secure, well paying job, will diminish in importance. Given the restructuring of the workforce which is already underway, it is worth considering the skills and competences that will be most valuable going forwards.
Emotional Quotient over Intelligence Quotient?
Many suggest that the ability to relate to and understand fellow human beings will become increasingly valuable as AI becomes more adept at performing analytical functions. According to this view, jobs that require that ability to perform emotional labour will become highly sought after. If this is the case, jobs that were once derided as ‘women’s work’ or low skill labour will grow in their importance to society. Others, like anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Homo Deus” counter that AI will eventually develop the ability to read and understand emotions better than humans themselves, rendering most workers dispensable.
Changing Educational Priorities
In response to the inevitable changes in the work force, institutions have begun to recommend ways to prepare people for the forthcoming changes. Just last year, in its Global Challenge Insight Report the World Economic Forum concluded that education systems’ priorities will have to be shifted to reflect the skills and competencies that will be valuable in an AI dominated era, to ensure that workers are not learning skills that will become irrelevant midway through their working careers. Some have suggested that answers lie in emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning and encouraging students to be curious and creative, enjoying the process of learning itself rather than simply memorize answers for an exam. This line of thinking says that humans need to better develop their abilities to creatively think in order to determine what tasks AI assisted programs actually need to complete. Others advocate for mandatory computer science classes so that children develop a deep understanding of the digital world in which they live. Many including the PEW Research Centre claim that going forwards both the state and employers will have to invest in worker retraining programs as humans become displace by machines.
Learning From the Past
It is instructive to remember that this is not the first time society has been disrupted by an industrial revolution, but the fourth. In the early 20th century, a large percentage of the workforce was concentrated in the agricultural sector. Now, the majority of the population is employed in urban centres as much of farming became outsourced to machines. Society is likely to eventually grow to complement the machines that inhabit our world as has been done in the past. As put by Vishal Sikka from the Financial Times, “breakthroughs can only be achieved if man and machine work together on a set of shared goals. When we achieve such a symbiosis, the potential for our species will be immense”.
A Topic that Transcends Boundaries
At AER’s event on Artificial Intelligence in Brussels politicians, civil servants, entrepreneurs, academics, and stakeholder groups will have the opportunity to take part in a genuine exchange on AI. They will be able to share stories about how AI is impacting their regions and effecting areas as diverse as education, health, culture, or health, and identify fields for cooperation. The impetus for the organisation of this mutual learning event came from Committee 1 president and Chair of the working group on SMEs & Investments, Jean-Luc Vanraes. At the plenary meetings in London, Jean Luc Vanraes offered to organise a mutual learning event on a current topic to exchange experiences, challenges and potentially identify new areas for cooperation between members across committees.
This unique event will give participants the chance to engage actively in conversations with stakeholder groups and experts about what they feel are the biggest challenges and opportunities to regions as AI keeps progressing. While the social and economic challenges posed by AI to human society can seem daunting, regions can learn from one another’s experiences and act right now.