“Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to increase productivity through automation and free people from doing repetitive work in favour of activities of higher value.  Is this view of the future too rosy? “

Robots are red, VR can be blue, AI might not be right for you…

With the recent sweep of technological advancement, it seems like people are on board with the concept of AI. As we speak, multiple industries, including logistics, healthcare, and finance, are using AI to enhance productivity (Down, 2017). While AI can prove to be beneficial at the moment, it is becoming detrimental to the labour market.

As told by Tim Urban (2015), we associate AI with movies, and something that’s completely out of our reach. It’s not. AI is embedded in our phones and even in our laptops. I know, you’re probably thinking: “Are you Siri-ous?”

Yes, we are.

“A robot is a container for AI,” it is a powerhouse of information that can mirror human-like features – or not (Urban, 2015). And to make things even more complicated, as AI is, there are different kinds of AI.

  1. Artificial Narrow Intelligence
  2. Artificial General Intelligence
  3. Artificial Superintelligence

Can you guess where we are?

Spoiler: ANI.

Yes, we are barely touching the concept of AI. Self-driving cars and Siri are just a small component of a bigger picture. The reality is, to reach AGI, it will take approximately 30 years and even more so to reach ASI. And by then, AI will control us.

Human-like robot
A rise in minimum wage will open doors for robotic employees (Image source: Pixabay.com).

Productivity can increase due to AI, however, it has the ability to devalue humans to produce lower quality of work. Automation is already on the verge of reducing millions of Canadians to AI babysitters (Tencer, 2017). The only paths that offer higher value work are consistent with obtaining higher education in subjects such as computer science, math and engineering, else the new worker is reduced to reading instruction manuals and babysitting machines (Herold, 2017).  For instance, let us take the example of the self-checkout lanes. What was once known to be a job for a cashier has now turned into a mere babysitting task. The level of interaction, communication, and problem-solving skills suddenly drop. With the popularity of self-checkouts, McDonald’s planned to introduce digital ordering kiosks in mid-2017 that were to replace cashiers in 2500 different locations (Research, 2017). Additionally, Creig Lamb (2016) stresses that “42 percent of the Canadian labour force is at a high risk of being affected by automation in the next decade or two.” Already, we are seeing the remnants of the bleak future ahead of us.

To combat this issue, Barack Obama stresses that we need to make good decisions today  to understand the outcome that AI will bring when it is fully integrated into our economic system.

If this continues, we might have to make it a habit of saying “Hi” to our robotic employees.

As of 2018, new wage increases has dramatically affected standard operating procedures at most businesses. What used to be the minimum wage of around $11 is now $14 and soon to be $15 in 2019 (Mahboubi, 2017). Many businesses already started cutting down benefits and enforcing unpaid breaks in hopes to save every possible penny (Mahboubi, 2017). Eventually businesses will start to employ and invest in AI and robotic machines that although seems to be an expensive investment at hand but ultimately a cheaper solution in the future.

The technology dominated sectors are already slowly clawing away at higher and lower valued jobs in the labour market. For humans to create the competitive advantage over AI, we will need to cultivate our innermost humane qualities: “creativity, empathy, and abstract thinking” (Herold, 2017). After all, AI is just a reflection of a small part of the human mind that deals with logic (Braga & Logan, 2017). According to Einstein “logic will get you from A to B [while] imagination will take you everywhere” (Braga & Logan, 2017, p.2). Unfortunately, if we fail to build this competitive advantage and settle in an AI dominated world, robots like Ellie, a ‘virtual therapist’ that can analyze facial expressions and body language to help PTSD victims recuperate, will eventually take over the job market (Cremin, 2016).

So to answer this question: YES, it is too rosy to think that AI will save our lives—in fact, it might be the reason why we need saving.


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