There is significant hype about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential to take over many jobs thought safe from Automation. It has been suggested AI could replace accountants, lawyers, doctors, and even general management activities. While it is true that advances in AI will certainly change many jobs, as so often happens, the fear is exaggerated. First, there is no evidence to support the notion automation has ever eliminated more jobs than it has created. Second, and more importantly, humans have intrinsic value that is unlikely to ever be replicated or replaced.
The Fear of Losing Jobs
Before anyone gets too excited, a recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the facts of mass automation in the past. Technology from the cotton gin through AI has always eliminated some jobs, but historically it has also created far more and better paying jobs as a result. Sure surrey drivers were put out of work with the advent of the automobile, but the auto industry created millions of jobs supporting the US GDP for decades. AI is simply the latest in a long-line of technological advances feared to lead to the end of our society. It has never happened before and is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It is true that some jobs may cease to exist, but this will be accompanied by a growth of new jobs supporting the AI industry. Even more remarkable will be the new jobs that don’t even exist today.
A recent report from the Institute for the Future estimates 85% of the jobs today’s students will perform by the year 2030 haven’t yet been invented. This is a difficult prospect for today’s workers to imagine, but it is not without precedent. Student’s graduating high school in the 1990’s could not have imagined careers working in web design, social media, or – for that matter — artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. Another recent article from MIT Sloan Management Review hints at some of the new jobs AI technology may create.
On top of all of that, it is unlikely many of the jobs being predicted to succumb to AI will actually go away. It is much more likely they will be augmented and changed than disappear entirely. And the reason is simple: humans have innate value in performing jobs in a human society.
Humans Have Intrinsic Value
Although AI is redefining what is considered automata by allowing more variation in performance, it is still not human. Human beings are defined by the irrational and emotional more than they are by cold, calculated precision. While this may seem to be a negative aspect of humans, it is also the source of the innovation, creativity, and passion that simply cannot be replicated. Just for sake of argument, let’s examine just one of the jobs proposed to be replaced in the future by AI: management.
Business management is an oft misunderstood discipline, which does not benefit from the HR moniker “people manager”. You manage objects, but you lead people. Objects are managed to gain efficiency, but they have finite limitations. You cannot encourage a robot to be more productive. You cannot ignite passion in your inventory tracking software to go above and beyond. Yet human beings have nearly limitless capability to “reach for a goal”, “put in extra effort”, or “embrace shared visions”. While this can also work to reduce human performance (as discussed in this article from MIT Sloan Management Review), this is critical distinction when looking at the effects of AI in particular.
Management, in its truest sense, is absolutely ripe for AI replacement. Eliminating the idiosyncracies of human performance can have significant value to organizations. AI is simply better able to gather, process, and act on vast amounts of data where human input is less vital (although not necessarily irrelevant). By offloading these tedious and taxing responsibilities, while also improving their performance, humans can spend more time doing the things where they have intrinsic, and irreplaceable value (See article from Swiss Cognitive).
Leadership, on the other hand, will no longer need to take backseat to management. By focusing on leadership, organizations will not only gain the advantages of AI-based management efficiency, but also from the benefits of stronger human performance. In essence, organizational leaders will be able to offload the tasks they don’t do very well anyway, and focus on the actions that lead to truly superior performance.
While the example above focuses on my area of expertise, the same can be said for many other jobs ripe for AI augmentation. AI, like the cotton gin and automobile before it, are tools that will augment and improve the way we work. Yes, some jobs may be significantly reduced or eliminated; however, they will be replaced by newer and better jobs. The jobs getting augmented by AI will simply change, putting more focus on the human aspect. It is not the end of the world.