Artificial intelligence (AI) is causing us to think about the world of work in different ways, but it should be embraced and not feared, argues Jerome Pesenti, CEO at BenevolentTech, which is a part of UK tech ‘unicorn’ BenevolentAI. Pesenti used to be a VP at IBM Watson and is currently leading the UK government’s AI Review.
Despite the ongoing disagreements about what AI might look like, there one thing all agree on – that it is going to have a significant and lasting impact on our society. While Terminator’s Skynet is the first thing to come to some people’s minds when you say AI, these dramatic outlooks remain far from the reality we are facing as a society.
Technology is part of our history
The concern about AI’s impact on the workforce is one that comes up time and time again. But, take a step back, and you can see that this conversation is not new. We have a history and society already shaped by developments in technology and mechanics. Back in the 1800s, 80% of the US workforce was dedicated to farming, but with the creation of machines, societies have been able to take away certain manual tasks and improve productivity in the process. Now, in the US, less than 2% of the workforce is dedicated to farming, freeing people up for other roles within society.
AI is set to have a similar impact. The technology is advancing rapidly, and combined with the increasing amount of data we’re producing in our day-to-day lives, it’s becoming increasingly possible to hand over our repetitive tasks to AI. We’re already seeing what this might look like with industries using AI to handle things like accountancy tasks, driving and legal work, or answering phones in call centres. These advancements are part of a history of an evolving workforce, based on what we’ve been able to achieve with developments in technology.
Bringing about new opportunities beyond productivity
However, it isn’t just the case of giving these opportunities over to the machines and washing our hands of certain activities. As in the past, we will need to adapt and develop new skills to take advantage of these developments, and the new jobs that they create.
AI will change how we work, not whether we will work. It will enable us to be more productive and, as a result, will create new innovation and economics opportunities. This means everything from new companies, new industry leaders and even potentially new industries altogether. The landscape is set to look very different, with the World Economic Forum predicting more than half (65%) of kids entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that aren’t even around yet.
If we embrace it, AI has the potential to help us overcome the world’s biggest problems and challenges as a society. We’re starting to see improvements in our daily standard of care, with diagnostic technologies freeing time for doctors, allowing them to pay more attention to the direct care of the patients. Scientists have also been able to take advantage of the computing power AI brings to dramatically improve research efficiency and their access to new insights.
The surprising thing is research is pretty much shared today in the same way it has been for centuries – through scientific papers. This means scientists are still analysing scientific literature one piece at a time, while tens of thousands of new papers are published every day. AI can help scientists to read all of these papers and gain the insights from them in a fraction of the time. In fact, using this system, our scientists at BenevolentAI have become familiar with a disease in a matter of hours and come up with a new hypothesis in just a few days. This dramatically speeds up the process to find new drugs and in turn will help to reduce the cost of new medicines.
The new paradigm of interaction
Another area that we’re seeing discussed more and more is how AI will change our relationship with computers. The truth is the interaction between humans and computers has always been one of adaptation. We have adapted to machines because of the primary way they operate – it’s an unnatural way if you think about it, through unambiguous sequence of bits and carefully coded algorithms. Just take a look at the QWERTY keyboard, it encourages us to communicate in a way that is very unnatural and, despite attempts to conform computers to our way of communicating, it is us that have had to change.
Machine learning is set to change this even further. Through it, computers can learn to perform tasks through just a set of examples. They no longer need to be coded one step at a time, instead machine learning can help to create new algorithms from the data it receives. These learned algorithms happen to perform much better at interpreting data in a form that humans find natural, such as language, speech, images. This will mean that there will be less unnatural process involved in using this technology moving forward – combining human-like abilities with the power of computers.
Talent will make the difference
In practice, AI should not be seen as a threat, but a great opportunity to further ourselves and what we are capable of doing. It has the potential to shift the balance of power and the UK needs to ensure it is at the front of the queue when this happens. Human talent will make the difference, as having the skills to drive its impact across industries will be the key. AI is not something that should be feared, but rather embraced for the potential opportunities it holds.