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
  • 5/22/2017 9:20:07 AM
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@PC, that does seem to be the real concern but I wonder if we'll see shifts of populations to less affluent countries in search of work.  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.  Their best option may be to emigrate to a less technologically advanced country and work until that country catches up or the technology hits a 3rd or 4th generation and it is inexpensive enough to replace them again.  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.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/19/2017 6:54:25 PM
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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?

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/19/2017 6:00:53 PM
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..

SaneIT writes

It isn't tough to imagine the owners of robotic factories moving to small affluent pockets but until a network of robot factory owners gets together with robot farmers they're going to have a hard time separating completely from the rest of society.  A future like that is still a long way off and I think we'll see depression like unemployment and civil unrest well before the super rich can build walled cities to keep the rest of the world out.  

Yes. These are some of the issues I've been driving at.

Another aspect: Automating production, according to numerous economists and other analysts, has had a far greater impact on the disappearance of secure, good-paying "middle class" jobs than the relocation of production facilities abroad. But it's been established that stressed formerly solidly employed blue-collar industrial workers are a major constituency of the voter base supporting Trump. A vast army of these dispossessed, formerly pro-liberal workers (male and female) have been struggling with "alternative work" (much lower-paying part-time and temp jobs), and becoming increasingly susceptible to bigotry, xenophobia, and other extremist rightwing demagoguery. In other words, some of the societal-political implications of replacing humans with robots can already be seen.

 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/19/2017 8:50:30 AM
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It isn't tough to imagine the owners of robotic factories moving to small affluent pockets but until a network of robot factory owners gets together with robot farmers they're going to have a hard time separating completely from the rest of society.  A future like that is still a long way off and I think we'll see depression like unemployment and civil unrest well before the super rich can build walled cities to keep the rest of the world out.  

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/18/2017 6:00:16 PM
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..

SaneIT writes

The jobs that I wonder about are the ones that will be taken over by an AI, financial services feels like they are headed this way.  What happens when you no longer need thousands of employees at a bank?  What happens when the AI doing all of those jobs lives in a 5,000 square foot datacenter not 5 floors in an office building. 

Yes, and certainly not just banks but other large offices, factories, distribution centers, mines, transport systems, and so on. These can all be automated.

Given current trends, what I envision is a future world somewhat like that imagined in the 2013 movie Elysium. Maybe not with the idyllic resort space station circling the Earth, but with the tiny affluent class living in some kind of resort communities and the remainder of the mass of people scrounging for survival somehow.

It's not inevitable. Human society is pretty resourceful, and may find a way to a future perhaps not so unacceptably dismal ...

..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/18/2017 5:09:44 PM
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Maybe the next trend will be Robo-CEOs. When we start having them maybe we will become more rational.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/18/2017 1:58:34 PM
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@Broadway0474, you raise a great point about definition of work and meaningful work. In general, we look to work primarily for monetary source. Many wouldn't perform their assigned tasks lest compelled by financial needs. I see our technological revolution to spur parallel revolutions in economics notably, sharing or distribution of resources. We can't prevent advancement in technologies and we definitely can't disregard the displaced or discarded humans.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/18/2017 8:30:43 AM
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@Ariella, I don't think we're seeing even the tip of the iceberg yet.  I know companies that are trying to scale back slightly or freeze hiring based on automation but haven't seen any that have closed down an office with thousands of positions.  I think of positions like insurance adjusters, fiduciaries, low and mid level accounting.  Most people that seem to be afraid of machines taking over have manual labor or repetitive labor positions not repetitive mind work positions. 

 

To answer some of the other comments in the thread about meaningful work, I think a lot of cubicle dwellers would argue that their work may feel meaningful at first but after years of work it really stops fulfilling them.  I'm sure 200 years ago if you took the average worker and told them they would be sitting at a desk for 10 hours shuffling paper around they wouldn't find that to be a fulfilling career.  I think what we'll see eventually is a surge in creativity as workers bound to strict process and piles of work are free to examine the job rather than put their head down and plow through it. 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/17/2017 9:58:19 PM
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SsneIT, the definitions of work and meaningful work have certainly changed over time, but what does not seem to change is the core meaning of work, which is that it gives human meaning. The fear should be not that robots and AI are talking all the jobs out there, but that the people who lose those jobs will be left with nothing. No work to replace, not even ungratifying work, and that's where mass upheaval could take place. When those people rebel against the system. Either that, or that's where mass medication would come in.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/17/2017 2:02:51 PM
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<What happens when you no longer need thousands of employees at a bank?  What happens when the AI doing all of those jobs lives in a 5,000 square foot datacenter not 5 floors in an office building. >

@SaneIt Don't you see signs of that already?  I am absolutely certain that one of the reasons banks encourage online banking is because it eliminates human labor on their end.  There are also banks that really discourage human teller interactions with fees for those who use them, or so I've heard. I don't use Chase banks but do sometimes pass through one in my neighborhood and notice that it now puts two ATMs right next to the line for the human tellers as a kind of nudget toward using the machine rather than waiting fo rthe person. I also think there are fewer people in that location now than there used to be.

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