AI is changing the world, the only question is, "How?”
It's hard to overstate what “work” means to humanity—it's an integral part of what we do. A defining characteristic. From chariots to cathedrals, currency, jet planes, and colliders, our hunger for innovation is plain as day. But will our pursuit of technological advancements lead to further flourishing, or will we work ourselves out of a job?
Nearly every major advancement in technology has taken jobs away, but has made many more. The printing press, electricity, automobiles, the Internet, etc. Yet this time, maybe for the first time, we can see a future where human work has actual competition.
What does it mean for operators in shipping sectors when self-driving trucks can drive further, safer, and cheaper than human counterparts? Or for financial professionals when programs are able to analyze, appraise, and execute transactions with higher yields and lower risk in a fraction of the time? What does it mean for all of us? Will we fashion AI into the ultimate servant of our leisure and let it replace us entirely, or will we wield AI as a master tool to solve problems we never could before?
Our creativity is undefeated, but our resolve will be tested. For us to live productively at peace with AI, we must first know what it is.
Getting Our Definitions Straight
Artificial Intelligence (AI), in its broadest sense, encompasses any machine or software that mimics human intelligence. For instance, the ability to learn, perceive, reason, comprehend language, and problem-solve. As technology advances, AI's capabilities have expanded from simple algorithms to complex systems capable of autonomous decision-making and incredible displays of knowledge.1
For example, planes use to be rudimentary, mechanically operated vehicles protected mostly by skilled pilots. These days, modern commercial aircraft house AI powered flight controls, collision avoidance, weather prediction and avoidance, air traffic management, and terrain/obstacle avoidance systems—all basically standard.2
Machine Learning (ML), a crucial subset of AI, involves algorithms that learn from and make predictions or decisions based on data. Deep learning, an advanced form of ML, is patterned off of neural networks and sends data through multiple layers of analysis to develop comprehensive familiarity with the data set or subject matter. We have used forms of Artificial Intelligence for some time now, but what's new is AI's ability to produce original and detailed outputs with a high degree of usefulness and accuracy.3 This is known as Generative AI (GenAI) and represents the vanguard of our progress thus far.
What Lies Beyond Generative AI?
I'm glad you asked.
The answer to that question is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Dr. Jeremy Kedziora, Endowed Chair in AI at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, explains:
“Artificial General Intelligence is like the holy grail of computer science. An AGI would be a kind of A.I. that would be self-adaptive, self-learning, able to do any task as well as or better than a human can do. It doesn't necessarily mean that an AGI would be conscious, it just means that it's very, very capable, and doesn't have any need for human intervention.”
As cool as it might be to have such a system operational in our world, for now it remains a goal for the future. Current AI systems are considered narrow or weak AI, designed for specific tasks, such as voice recognition or image analysis. But with the advent of Large Language Models (LLMs) like OpenAI's ChatGPT, a generative language system that can understand and generate human-like text, it's clear that today's AI systems are getting stronger every day.4
“Once developers can generalize a learning algorithm and run it at the speed of a computer—an accomplishment that could be a decade away or a century away—we’ll have an incredibly powerful artificial general intelligence,” said Bill Gates. “It will be able to do everything that a human brain can, but without any practical limits on the size of its memory or the speed at which it operates. This will be a profound change.”5
AI effectiveness and reliability is highly dependent on the data it consumes. Biases or errors in training data can lead to skewed AI behavior, reflecting human prejudices and failings. This duality in AI capabilities—reproducing both our ingenuity and our flaws—underscores the need for responsible AI development, focusing on ethical training practices and diverse data sets.6
AI's potential is vast, but its real-world applications are currently bound by technological limitations, ethical considerations, and practical feasibility. The progression towards AGI, if at all achievable, requires not only technological breakthroughs, but also a profound understanding of human cognition and ethics.7
How Will AI Impact What We Hire For?
The interplay between evolving AI capabilities and human adaptability is reshaping the workforce landscape. Jobs involving routine, repetitive tasks or those heavily reliant on data processing are increasingly subjected to automation through AI. Clerical work, data entry, and aspects of manufacturing are seeing a shift towards AI and robotics. However, this technological disruption is not merely about job replacement but also about transformation and creation of new roles.
For example, AI in healthcare8 is not only automating administrative tasks but also augmenting medical professionals' abilities in diagnosis and patient care. AI tools are assisting radiologists in detecting anomalies in imaging scans more accurately and swiftly than before.9 Kedziora, in speaking on the matter, adds:
“A doctor, a med student, or a resident standing at a patient's bedside doesn't have to keep in memory a hundred different physical signs of something. They can offload some of that work because that's just beyond the ability of anybody to do it effectively. We have these kinds of things going on right now.”
Integration of AI necessitates an evolution in the skill sets required for the workforce. Jobs will increasingly require a blend of technical proficiency and soft skills like problem-solving, creativity, and emotional intelligence. AI literacy will become a crucial skill across various sectors – not just for IT professionals.
“The AI genie is out of the bottle,” said Cynthia Breazeal, a professor of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s not just in the realm of computer science and coding. It is affecting all aspects of society. It’s the machine under everything. It’s critical for all students to have AI literacy if they are going to be using computers, or really, almost any type of technology.” 10
The changes extend beyond individual job roles to affect team dynamics and organizational structures. AI tools will act as collaborators, aiding human teams in achieving greater efficiency and innovation. This shift in workplace dynamics also brings into focus the need for ethical considerations and governance in AI deployment.
Future hiring practices will likely emphasize a candidate's adaptability and capacity to work alongside AI. Similarly, professional education and training programs will need to adapt, preparing individuals for a future where AI is an integral part of the work environment.
How Should You Think About AI and Your Industry?
Understanding AI's potential impact on an industry requires analyzing current technological integration and the nature of work involved. For instance, manufacturing has already seen significant automation with robotic assembly lines, so further AI integration, while likely, will not have the same impact as in other sectors. In contrast, creative industries like advertising or software development, traditionally reliant on human ingenuity, are beginning to experience AI's influence in generating content and coding.
AI should be viewed as a toolset tailored to specific challenges and opportunities rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires human oversight to identify process inefficiencies and engineer AI solutions that address specific needs. Industries must evaluate their unique contexts to leverage AI effectively, fostering a workforce that can synergistically work with AI.
Another example is in retail, where AI can improve customer experiences through personalized recommendations and efficient inventory management. However, it should be noted that while humans appreciate the many positives that AI can offer, in many instances customers prefer to retain a human element—especially when it comes to customer service and decision-making.11
To prepare for AI's future role, companies should assess their operational challenges and opportunities, investing in AI technologies that align with their strategic goals. Developing a workforce skilled in AI integration and adaptation will be crucial in leveraging AI's full potential.
A Word on Relocation
The rise of AI is not only transforming job roles and industries, but it’s also reshaping the global workforce landscape. Companies are increasingly focusing on recruiting talent that is proficient in creating and using AI solutions. This shift is influencing where companies choose to operate and the nature of their workforce.
AI-driven technologies like telecommuting, virtual collaboration, and autonomous vehicles are changing the dynamics of work location and commuting. For example, the advent of self-driving cars could make longer commutes more tolerable, potentially affecting urban planning and housing markets.12
The globalization of the workforce, facilitated by AI and digital technologies, is leading to more diverse and geographically dispersed teams. This decentralization offers companies access to a broader talent pool, but also presents challenges in managing a remote workforce.
AI's influence extends to how individuals consider job opportunities. Technologies like advanced AI voice translation devices could reduce language barriers, encouraging more people to consider international assignments. Similarly, AI's role in making travel safer and more efficient could influence decisions related to travel-intensive roles.
In this evolving landscape, companies must strategically consider the makeup of their workforce, the location of their operations, and how they can best leverage AI to maintain a competitive edge. The future of work will likely be characterized by increased flexibility, with AI playing a pivotal role in enabling this transformation.
Balancing Human Creativity and Machine Intelligence
“There are two types of companies: those who are great at AI and everyone else.” ~ Marc Cuban
AI is a transformative force reshaping the environment of work and industry. Its impact extends beyond technological advancements to influence hiring practices, workplace dynamics, and even the global distribution of work.
As we integrate AI into various aspects of our professional lives, it is crucial to balance its potential with ethical considerations, ensuring that technology enhances rather than eclipses the human element in work. Because the future of AI in the workplace is not just about automation and efficiency: it's about harmony and crafting the right relationship between human creativity and machine intelligence.
In every era technological advancement challenges us to adapt, and especially so in this current time. The odds are in our favor. But make no mistake, our imagination stands at the helm of our response and will decide our future. Will we rise to the challenge and test its bounds, or will we allow AI to lull us into complacency?
It's yours to decide.
- Understanding artificial intelligence ethics and safety, by The Alan Turing Institute
- Fly to the sky! With AI. How is artificial intelligence used in aviation? by Artur Haponik
- The future of work after COVID-19, by McKinsey & Company
- How remote work is reshaping America's urban geography, by Brookings Institution
- The Age of AI has begun, by Bill Gates
- Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030, by Stanford University
- Artificial General Intelligence: Concept, State of the Art, and Future Prospects, by Journal of Artificial General Intelligence
- Artificial Intelligence in healthcare: past, present and future, by BMJ Journals
- How Is AI Used In Healthcare - 5 Powerful Real-World Examples That Show The Latest Advances, by Bernard Marr (Forbes)
- AI Literacy, Explained, by Alyson Klein
- I Stats News: 86% Of Consumers Prefer Humans To Chatbots, by Gil Press (Forbes)
- Autonomous driving’s future: Convenient and connected, by Johannes Deichmann, Eike Ebel, Kersten Heineke, Ruth Heuss, Martin Kellner, and Fabian Steiner