Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been touted as an important and exciting development for businesses, as they open possibilities for companies to explore data in new ways and respond reactively to consumer demands.
The ways in which we interact with technology daily – whether those technologies are smartphones, computers, or smart home devices – are influenced more and more by AI and machine learning. Siri, Alexa and other voice command-enabled technologies use machine learning to improve their processes.
While the potential applications of AI and machine learning are exciting and important, there is some scepticism about how beneficial AI can be. Some, including Elon Musk of Tesla, are concerned that if left unchecked, AI could even be dangerous to humans.
While that is an extreme opinion, it’s a valid concern given the precedent set by the advent of robotic technology, which saw some industries replace traditional workers with automated machinery.
Replacing human workers with robots is now standard practice in some industries; the American automotive industry, for example, accounts for half of industrial robots in the US.
While robotics and AI are different, concerns that the AI revolution could also threaten job security for more workers in traditional roles across different industries are understandable.
This isn’t a futuristic prediction; the rate at which technology is developing means that it is an issue which needs careful thought now. A 2017 article from the Harvard Business Review highlights the extent to which AI could replace traditional workers, while a 2018 article in the Guardian cites some wilder estimates that over a third of jobs could be taken over by AI by 2050.
What is AI?
According to Wired magazine, AI “is a branch of computer science attempting to build machines capable of intelligent behaviour”.
AI already determines the ways in which we interact with the world, to an extent: when we type something into a digital device, misspellings are detected, corrected and learned as your most common spelling preference. Media and ecommerce sites that provide recommendations of things you may like or be interested in watching or listening to arise from AI processes.
This means that several companies – Google, Amazon, Netflix, and others like them – have already embedded AI in the workplace culture, without necessarily threatening traditional job roles for people.
Perhaps the best example of this is at Amazon, where the use of AI over a period of years has seen employee numbers increase rather decrease.
The HBR source also cites that AI is most frequently being adopted in ways which do not threaten job roles as carried out by human workers. These are often used to optimise other functions across the business, freeing up human staff to do other work.
A jobless future..?
Given the number of variables involved, there is very little certainty about whether human jobs could be lost to AI, but the Harvard Business Review is optimistic that AI will be used to complement a human workforce well before it threatens jobs.
As the technology develops, there will be new opportunities for businesses big and small to utilise AI to gain greater value from data, interact with customers in new ways and provide new services and products to meet predicted demands. As demand grows, a business grows and so does its workforce.
Four companies using AI:
Skype currently uses machine learning to offer real-time voice-to-text translations in eight languages, and text-to-text translations in more than 50 languages.
Online retailer Amazon has used predictive algorithms for years to recommend products to customers based on purchase and search history.
Microsoft’s Project Oxford is a programme which uses machine learning to improve applications through image and facial recognition and much more.
Music streaming service Spotify uses three types of AI algorithms to help determine weekly playlists of recommended music for users.