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Will AI Eliminate Working Class Jobs in the Next 20 Years?

With everyone pointing fingers as the inevitable apocalypse as soon as a super-intelligent AI comes to fruition, it isn’t a comfortable time to be artificial intelligence. There are doomsday predictions of super-computers becoming so smart they’ll replicate and do what’s best for the planet — exterminate polluting, murderous humans.

But that’s only one way to look at it. On the other hand if we’re able to build the proper safe-guards then we could end up with man’s liberator. As a society we may not have to work anymore — unless you’re ambitious and pursue what you truly want to do.

It’s certainly a controversial topic, making it perfect for one of our expert roundups. We brought together a group of experts in AI and asked them something a bit less doomsday:

Will Artificial Intelligence Take Away Working Class Jobs in the Next 20 Years?

Here’s what they said…

Jeff Evernham, Director of Consulting at Sinequa

“We’re definitely, quickly headed in the direction of workforce displacement, as there are huge economic incentives to increase efficiency and to automate manual tasks. This will happen faster than we expect because we think linearly, while technology is advancing exponentially. AI is a disruptor like we’ve never seen before and it will be here soon, ready or not. However, AI will allow tasks that have been impractical because of the time/labor involved to become feasible. This will free us from many mundane and repetitive tasks, enabling people to focus on new or more valuable activities, which will increase efficiency and consistency in the workplace, and improve quality and safety. So while the workforce will look very different from how it looks today in the next five-ten years, AI and ML are going to greatly extend and expand our capabilities in ways that, for now, we can only imagine.”

Brennan White, CEO & Founder of Cortex

“For over 150 years, automation has been removing specific jobs from the job market. But, in so doing, automation increases the efficiency to complete a task or make goods and increased the total number of jobs available due to growth in the economy. The explosion of the global economy and the total number of jobs since the industrial revolution is evidence of this. Artificial Intelligence will have a similar affect. Many jobs that exist today will be gone, but many more jobs will have appeared in their place due to efficiencies in the economy. While working class jobs have traditionally been the most at-risk for automation, AI is going to impact both working class and white-collar jobs. Whereas before, physical automation had no impact on finance, marketing, or other white-collar jobs, AI is already capable of accomplishing formerly “safe” mental and creative tasks.”

Ian Crouch, Managing Partner, Reveal Group

“In 20 years time the developments in RPA and advancements in AI will certainly herald unprecedented changes in ‘traditional’, working-class employment, but will certainly result in a far great focus on customer experiences, and how organisations can better theirs. In the next five years we believe we will see service fulfilment operations in banks reduce their head-counts by around 50%, and thus their operating costs; we will see their quality and execution improve greatly, and most importantly, we will see a significant impact on customer experience. We are watching AI and believe that it certainly will come as a significant new technology. The cost of it at the moment, and the maturity of it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to widespread application in the commercial sector. But we think it’s only a matter of time before that happens. We have seen that the typical return for our clients, over a period of three years, between 500-1000%. With RPA, we know that it is not a matter of if they are going to do it; it is only a matter of when.”

Scott Litman, Managing Partner,  Equals 3

“There’s a symbiosis between the individual and the machine – that better than the individual and better than the machine are the two together. While there will be an ongoing level of disruption in the market due to automation over the next 20 years, we expect new opportunities will also be created based on AI’s ability to enhance individual capabilities to, in turn, achieve greater performance and results.”

Tom Feltham, Operations Director, Explore WMS

“Many working class jobs exist within the manufacturing supply chain, an ecosystem which has already begun to see the impact of artificial intelligence. Amazon Robotics is perhaps the most frequently cited example of AI fulfilling roles previously held by humans. Having implemented autonomous mobile robots for picking operations in Amazon fulfillment centers, the number of warehouse roles for employees will certainly decrease. Supply chain management has also seen an increased role for AI, with Hitachi implementing AI programs which increased warehouse operation efficiency by 8%. The real question is what happens to those employees who lose their positions to AI-driven systems or robotics. Amazon has attempted to tackle this moral dilemma by implementing programs which train employees for alternative roles such as nursing and aircraft mechanics. For this solution to prove effective, adoption of training programs must keep up with the pace of AI innovation.”

Tim Houlne, CEO, Humach

“While AI is progressing and the level of acceptance has increased in recent years, predicting that it will eliminate the majority of working class jobs is an overestimation. Yes, AI, automation and machine learning will eliminate the jobs that handle simple transactions and tasks. However, they will also create new jobs that require a higher skilled, trained or educated worker to program, optimize, and control the smart machines. The definition of working class as we know it will change, just as innovation has changed the definition for the last 200 years. In our line of work, we use the latest technology to redefine the customer experience by blending the creativity and experience of humans, with the computation power, analytics and automation of machines. Even in 20 years, it will not be humans vs machines, it will be humans + machines.”

Daniel Harris, Market Research Associate, Software Advice

“Machine learning technologies have already evolved to the point that robots can observe human beings performing unstructured tasks (e.g. tidying up a room) and then perform these tasks autonomously, however, such technologies won’t replace human workers until: 1. Robots can reliably perform such unstructured tasks. 2. Robots offer substantial cost savings over human workers. Reliability will of course improve over the next twenty years, but currently there are no indications that manufacturing costs for highly specialized robots for janitorial work and other common tasks will be cheaper than hiring a human being. Ironically, AI poses more of a threat to middle-class and professional jobs (managers, lawyers, writers, teachers, administrators, etc.). In jobs that don’t involve manual labor, manufacturing costs for robots aren’t a factor, and a human can thus be more cheaply replaced with a collection of algorithms.”

Kentaro Toyama, W. K. Kellogg Associate Professor, University of Michigan’s School of Information, fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT

“AI and robotics tend to replace work that is both repetitive and impersonal. Many working-class jobs — and even many knowledge-work jobs — are repetitive. Thus already, we have robots doing factory jobs and AI writing repetitive news articles such as for sports and corporate earnings reports. As time progresses, the definition of repetitive will broaden, and jobs involving more and more complex tasks will be performed by AI. But even among repetitive jobs, many require a human touch. Bartenders, for example, will not be easily replaced, at least in establishments where patrons expect a sympathetic ear. Police officers will keep their jobs — the ethics of robots making life-or-death decisions will not be readily accepted. Daycare centers and pre-schools will continue to be staffed by people — what parent wants their children raised by machines? These kinds of jobs will likely endure… at least until we have humanoid robots indistinguishable from human beings.

About the author

Nick Hastreiter

I write about the future of business. I approach this by interviewing founders, CEO's, and other game changers to share their vision for the future of their industry.

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