IT World Canada is pleased to once again partner with the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) to host the Third National Business Technology Management (BTM) Student Competition. Teams are composed of the top 3rd and 4th-year BTM students from participating schools.
The blog topic this year is “There’s a lot of hype around the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on Canada’s workforce. Some studies suggest it will wipe out thousands of jobs. Others suggest it will kindle innovation and generate more jobs than it eliminates. Develop a blog that takes a point of view on this subject.”
Artificial Intelligence and its impact on society
What is artificial intelligence? The founder of the term “AI”, John McCarthy, noted that the definition of AI is constantly changing. This happens once a task formerly thought to characterize artificial intelligence becomes routine — such as chess or checkers, or any computer abilities — then it is no longer associated to artificial intelligence. If John is right, this is probably why you get a different answer every time you ask someone about AI.
Some say AI will cross the line when it reaches human-like intelligence, when self-awareness, problem-solving, and human cognition are present. Currently, these algorithms are in the development stage, and massive amounts of investments are poured into projects that can generate commercial applications. In our capitalistic society, competition drives innovation, and the market rewards those who can make things more efficient. Efficiency drives profit and it wants to get stuff done using the most cost-effective way possible. Even if it means reducing human capital. This is what needs to be addressed. I believe the main concern of the masses lie in the preconceived notion that people will be rendered of value and jobs soon.
Now to the two big words that are always brought up when someone mentions AI: machine learning and automation. Machine learning is defined as giving a set of data, allowing the machine to apply statistical techniques designed by humans and is given a goal, which it uses these aforementioned techniques to achieve a goal. When that goal is to reach a point where a machine can automate out truck drivers, cashiers, administrative assistants, and even well-paid white-collar jobs in insurance and finance, in the years to come; this becomes very concerning.
Looking at the labour participation rate will give a better perspective of economic health than GDP. The graph from StatsCanada shows the downward trend of the participation rates, down to 65.7% in 2016, with each percentage equating to hundreds of thousands of people dropping out. This downward trend may be driven by factors such as an aging population, education-related factors and family-related factors, but the trend does not take account of automation and the lowered demand of labour.
History has shown us again and again that corporations are interested in wealth generation, and people are treated as a means to obtain that goal. “The Industrial Revolution benefited humanity in the long run, but in the short run there was tremendous suffering, interspersed with wars that were far more destructive thanks to technology.” Amendments and labour laws were established to protect the interests of the people. With the rise of AI and automation displacing jobs, we need to ensure the upcoming government and policymakers have their agenda aligned with the interests of all Canadians.
Author: Johnny Zhong, University of Calgary
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