Jul 25, 2017
If you visit The Brew’s Eagle House location, you’ll find a mural adorning the wall that reads ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. Any poetry fans among you may recognise these as the title of a Richard Brautigan poem, his vision of an idyllic future in which humans live a life of peace and tranquillity thanks to the development of automation. Brautigan’s utopian hope for the future of the human/machine relationship is a far cry from the gloomy predictions you often encounter today, such as one economist’s prediction that 47% of all jobs will be lost to automation by 2034. So does the looming prospect of widespread AI usage really spell doom for the workplace, or could it change it for the better?
Even over the last 50 to 60 years the world of work has changed immeasurably. Where once the separate cubicles of the private office reigned supreme, now shared workspaces and more flexible environments are more common. But AI could change the way we work more than any other advancement since the industrial revolution, and it could come much sooner than you think. The truth is that the world in which humans coexist with AI isn’t just around the corner – it’s here. From everyday tools like Amazon’s Alexa to Google’s pioneering Deep Mind project, we are already living through the dawn of the AI age.
So what does this mean for the future of the workplace? Particularly physical jobs are usually highlighted as the most likely to be affected. As far as carrying out physical tasks, robots are now reaching the stage where they can make sushi as effortlessly as they can run a production line. But these aren’t the only jobs likely to be affected. Deep learning AI programmes and complex algorithms are already proving capable of carrying out tasks such as diagnosing tuberculosis with a shocking degree of accuracy, sometimes to an equivalent or even higher level than their human counterparts. Meanwhile chatbots are becoming ever more adept at answering customer queries. Who knows, you could be reading the words of a complex algorithm right now.
It seems likely that what will be required is not a regressive shunning of the possibilities of AI technology, but a refocusing of the job market away from the roles jobs easily carried out by robots, and towards new fields that will emerge because of, rather than despite, these new advancements. After all, the robots may be running the shop floor, but who will be running the robots? The alternative, more positive outlook is that AI won’t steal our jobs and leave us with nothing, but rather open up new areas and possibilities for us.
And it seems that despite the apocalyptic predictions of some high profile names, not everyone shares their outlook – a study by Adobe found that 89% of people are optimistic about the prospect of automation in the workplace. None of this is to say that we should be complacent about the issue. It’s important to make sure that our development of AI is carried out responsibly, but the enormous potential of new technology to improve every element of the work space around us shouldn’t be ignored or hidden away.