Why Automation and AI are Cool, Until They're Not


Image: (Pixabay/DrSJS)

Image: (Pixabay/DrSJS)

Every day, there's more news about automation, machine learning and AI. Already, some vendors are touting their ability to replace salespeople and even data scientists. Interestingly, the very people promoting these technologies aren't necessarily considering the impact on their own jobs.

In the past, knowledge jobs were exempt from automation, but with the rise of machine learning and AI, that's no longer true. In the near future, machines will be able to do even more tasks that have historically been done by humans.

Somewhere between doomsday predictions and automated utopia is a very real world of people, businesses and entire industries that need to adapt or risk obsolescence.

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One difference between yesterday's automation and today's automation (besides the level of machine intelligence) is the pace of change. Automating manufacturing was a very slow process because it required major capital investments and significant amounts of time to implement. In today's software-driven world, change occurs very quickly and the pace of change is accelerating.

The burning existential question is whether organizations and their employees can adapt to change fast enough this time. Will autonomous "things" and bots cause the staggering unemployment levels some foresee a decade from now, or will the number of new jobs compensate for the decline of traditional jobs?

[Read the full story by Lisa Morgan at InformationWeek.com]

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/26/2017 8:47:35 AM
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Lyndon, I think there are people thinking this through, the ones calling for a minimum living standards payout for everyone --- a lump sum of cash that everyone gets to get by. If people want and can to work, there will be nothing stopping them. But for people who won't or cannot work, they'll have support to get retrained, or to live a meager but practical existence. It may take a massive upheaval in our country to make this sort of mass welfare possible of course ..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/26/2017 8:47:25 AM
NO RATINGS

Lyndon, I think there are people thinking this through, the ones calling for a minimum living standards payout for everyone --- a lump sum of cash that everyone gets to get by. If people want and can to work, there will be nothing stopping them. But for people who won't or cannot work, they'll have support to get retrained, or to live a meager but practical existence. It may take a massive upheaval in our country to make this sort of mass welfare possible of course ..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/25/2017 4:05:51 PM
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..

Predictable writes

Historically, when buggy whips, wagon wheels and carriages were no longer viable; the people who worked in those industries could move to new types of employment that opened up with rubber tires and automobiles. The transition might be painful, both for individuals and communities; but there was a reasonalbe level of employment sometime after the old ways were gone.

I've expected that the disruptions caused by AI and the latest wave of technical changes to happen much the same way - we will survive and still have productive work for everyone even after machines are doing much of hte work that humans do today.

But today, I'm not so sure. Future machines should be able to do esentially all physical labor better than humans can. And once that happens, what law of economics says that there will be any employment for all the former truck drivers, painters, etc. that are put out of work? Couldn't this dislocation be similar to what happened to horses when the horse-drawn carriages were phased out? 

In 1915, the US horse population peaked at about 26 Million. A hundred years later, we have less than half as many - only about 10 Million. And if we limited ourselves to work horses, the drop would be even steeper.

Do you think the work for people will disapear like it did for horses?

My own answer is: Well, prettty much. I kinda hedge that because, after all, even today there's some tiny work still for horses (racehorces, for example).

As to what will actually happen, about all we can really do is speculate on possible future developments – SaneIT's suggestion of segments of the population relocating to Third World countries in search of jobs, for example. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that there will be coming some pretty severe dislocations, probably mass unrest leading to major upheavals.

I also think the capitalist economic model is going to have a very hard time dealing with the situation, mainly because it depends on demand from consumers who are also members of the workforce – i.e., dependent on jobs to provide income which becomes the consumer spending that drives the "demand" for the products/services being offered.  As the workforce drastically diminshes in size (with presumably a massively expanding destitute population), what then happens to consumer demand? I'm not really seeing anybody (economists, planners, political pundits, whatever) thinking all this through ...

..

Unemployed ? Don't Blame Automation or a Bot
  • 5/23/2017 9:15:48 PM
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" Will autonomous "things" and bots cause the staggering unemployment levels some foresee a decade from now, or will the number of new jobs compensate for the decline of traditional jobs? "


I argue unemployment levels will increase regardless of automation because society is becoming much more complex. There is an entire technology based frontier ( of which automation is a part) that has already influenced unemployment levels. Quite simply those who do not retool are destined to find themselves unemployed. We are seeing this now and will continue to see this until those that don't believe they have to change actually do.

As far as the formation of new jobs, well I am sure many economists would agree that a new median will be achieved eventually.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/23/2017 1:46:30 AM
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Well we are already seeing software replacing lawyers. JPMorganhas software that interprets commerical loan agreements.  The software named COIN does in secionds what took lawyers 360,000 hours to do.

In a robotic surgery breakthrough, a bot stitched up a pig's small intestines using its own vision, tools, and intelligence to carry out the procedure. What's more, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) did a better job on the operation than human surgeons who were given the same task.

If AI can do all that, I can't imagine anything it really can't do.

 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/22/2017 8:11:57 PM
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@kq4ym: The problem with that, of course, is that some people are simply more productive than others or make better use of their time.  But the point is definitely well taken.

In any case, I doubt that AI will help make communism or socialism any more successful than humans have been able to make it.

law practice
  • 5/22/2017 8:09:51 PM
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I think about my own profession of law practice, and while AI-like tech is being used in some research areas, I think you'd have a very hard time deploying it beyond that.

Even in research, it's difficult because of the variances in spellings and phrasing and whatnot in case law.  Certainly tools based on Westlaw Keynotes and the like can help with this, but it's hard enough to do online research and get everything you need.  Even today in 2017, there's little substitute for going to an actual law library and opening actual, hardbound books.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/22/2017 1:54:58 PM
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<  Maybe the best hope for the middle class is that the upper class wants to keep some humans around to interact with and the service industry manages to keep a human layer.>

@SaneIT there may be something to that, catering to those who want the human touch. Likely you would see that in higher end retail outlets whose shoppers expect to be waited on by deferntial staff. 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/22/2017 1:53:16 PM
NO RATINGS

< At first we'll see specific industries suffer, some of those unemployed will be able to transition into other fields but many will be left chronically unemployed or underemployed. >

@SaneIT I think that will, unfortunately, be the case. I'm not sure about an emigration solution. It's very difficult for people to move, particularly to a place with a different language and culture than the one they are used to, though the reverse has been the case for generations as people move to technologically more advanced countries for better opportunities and earning potential. 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/22/2017 9:54:45 AM
NO RATINGS

I am reminded of B.F. Skinner's utoopian novel Walden II of some decades ago. Skinner advocated in the story, employees bidding on jobs not by salary or per hours wages, but my how many hours they would be willing to work per week.  Everyone would receive about the same money yearly, but depending on the willingness to people to do certain jobs they might bid to work 40 hour weeks or 10 or anything inbetween., I wonder if this might solve some of our current work related issues?

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