Productivity Is For The Robots (For Now)

It’s inevitable, the robots are coming for our jobs. McKinsey Global Institute predicts that robots could increase global productivity 50% by 2025, adding $2 trillion to the economy; other studies point to similar outcomes.

Right now we’re in phase one of the robot revolution: routine task automation.

The promise of artificial intelligence will take place when we can flawlessly integrate it into our messy unpredictable world; we’re not quite there yet. Tech companies are racing to dominate A.I. and make this happen, while the long-term vision for some is A.I. becomes a smarter unbiased version of ourselves.

It this possible?

My take is we’re living in an era where the development of A.I. is faster than ever before, for various reasons. There are strong signs that the singularity, the moment when A.I. overtakes us in cognitive capability, is near; thus making us theoretically obsolete.

Again, we can’t predict when that will happen but we can be certain of what will happen now.

Job transformation, not job replacement

In the short-term we’re looking at a future where A.I. will change our jobs; not take them. It’s an idea Kevin Kelly talks about in his recent book, 12 Inevitable Tech Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Here he is at SXSW talking about what an A.I. dominated world looks like for him :

I think he’s right, and have talked about scenarios where they’ll take our jobs and where they’ll enhance them. Kelly disregards the perspective that at some point A.I. will become smarter than itself and thus make us obsolete. Though there’s active efforts to get A.I. to be creative, it’s strength is in mechanical routine tasks in its present form; while we’re best at non-linear tasks such as creative, deductive and critical thinking.

There is great discourse on the topic of whether or not technology is a job killer or a creator, the bottom line is that it’s both. Innovation eliminates and creates, it’s happened throughout history.

New technologies lead to job losses, but new ones are created. Look at this chart that shows 10 jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago:

jobs that didn't exist 10 years ago

Of course, jobs will change, some will be eliminated while others are created not just because of A.I. but its intersection with other technologies. The long-term perspective, the inevitable one, is robots will steal our jobs, but they’ll give us new ones.

We can’t prevent robots from stealing the repetitive part of most jobs, this means we’re likely to train them to be even more efficient; thus making us more productive and giving us more time for creative work.

Below is Kevin Kelly talking about some of the other technologies that are shaping our world that have inevitable consequences.