The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shaped the way Americans perform their professional duties, with almost half of all employees (44%) switching to remote work during the on-site shelter tenure. Not only did this change the way these workers discharged their responsibilities, but it also caused many employers to re-evaluate the need to require these employees to check in at their desks in the first place.
For many, the ability to work from home has become an unexpected perk of their jobs, slowly shifting from a welcome change to their new normal. Now, however, as many cities begin to reopen, employers – who were once content with letting their staff stay in their home offices – are demanding that their remote workers resume their workload at a physical facility.
If that weren’t complicated enough, there’s another factor many of these employees didn’t consider: some of them might not even have jobs to return to when their workplace reopens. With artificial intelligence (AI) entering the roles left vacant by these remote workers, more and more people are finding that instead of receiving a welcome letter, they are going to find a little pink slip in their inbox instead. .
Fear or a valid threat?
The concept of artificial intelligence and robots becoming viable members of the workforce almost seems like something out of science fiction. These are the myths perpetuated by a PK Dick novel, or something Isaac Asimov might write about. In addition, the robots work only in factories, assemble cars or other machines, or take our orders at the drive. Right? Could they really come for us, the white Joe or the medium blue collar?
Without a doubt, the answer is a Yes. The point is, artificial intelligence doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you answer the phone for a living, or report every afternoon, or love your lattes with sugar-free vanilla syrup and soy milk. To them, and to the people who are preparing these robots to enter the workforce, you are just another faceless entity that will be gradually replaced by the automation of AI. This is not science fiction; it is a scientific fact.
Entry Level to Skilled Workforce: Are All Jobs Safe?
When people express fears about artificial intelligence, those anxieties are usually rooted in the intangible, such as the concept of machines rising and taking over humanity. It is the dramatic reversal that worries most of us, and not the constant invasion of robots that are quietly replacing us. It turns out that their usurpation turns out to be a little more subtle and significantly more insidious.
Already kiosks are popping up across the world in Fast food and supermarkets, replacing entry-level labor one by one. Yet many people scoff at the idea of skilled labor being made redundant. A robot cannot create art, or write a novel, or perform surgery… Or can he?
Indeed, no more work is really safe. Nowadays, a robot can probably do everything a human can do, and maybe even better. Even the so-called “human element”Is injected into their work, making it virtually indistinguishable from genuine, real things. Common jobs already replaced by AI include everything from healthcare roles to the creative arts, meaning that before too long humans could become obsolete technology.
Which industries are most threatened by AI?
While it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by this emerging threat of AI taking over our jobs, some industries are still more at risk than others. Sure, a robot can write a book or compose a tune, but for now we still have a strong preference for works created by flesh-and-blood human beings. Yes, there is some novelty in watching a shimmy robot and air belt for us, but we’ll always swoon for our favorite Human rock groups on stage.
That said, some industries are more at risk than others. For example, telemarketing quickly took precedence over robocalls. Fortunately, it’s much easier to hang up on a bot than it is to hang up on a persistent person trying to sell us an extended warranty on our auto insurance. Receptionists are also going to be replaced in the near future, as AI planning is less error-prone and much more precise. Say goodbye to the bored front desk clerk, their days are soon numbered.
Other jobs that can be replaced by AI include couriers and tech support. Already, many companies are turning to drones to deliver packages, and autonomous cars are already more and more numerous on the roads of our country. When it comes to tech support, no one likes to wait on hold, only to be told by an annoyed guy across the globe to ask if he tried to turn it off and back on. These two industries will certainly be consumable in the years to come.
Even managerial and HR positions are not secure either. Studies have shown that while human resources and hiring managers are generally required for most offices, artificial intelligence is already carving out a niche in this industry. Instead of offering a salary based on the skills of a potential employee, AI guides compensation programs based on complex algorithms. Even the humble employment background check – a must have for any workplace – is being powered by AI.
Is it really dark and catastrophic, however?
There is, however, one glaring caveat to this burgeoning threat that requires serious consideration, and it is one that simply cannot be overlooked. Ultimately, using AI is fraught with risk and currently cannot be left alone, unattended. As it stands, it still requires human oversight, as it’s very error prone and can turn, well, surreal and even downright offensive if left unchecked.
For example, one company decided to let AI design phone cases for them. In a relatively short time, he went from generating cute puppies and kittens to creating phone cases with macabre medical imaging emblazoned on them. In a less humorous example, a Microsoft AI chatbot was posted to the Twitterverse to interact with other users. In less than 24 hours, the once innocent bot learned hateful ideology, sexism and racism.
AI isn’t perfect or flawless, and we’re still far too early in this technology to decide whether or not it’s going to replace us. While a racist chatbot is certainly a problem in itself, it pales in comparison to a robot making a serious mistake during surgery or an autonomous car navigating its passengers over a cliff. Yet we cannot forget that artificial intelligence has been an incredible gift to humanity, enabling us to develop vaccines at an unprecedented rate and restore sight blindly.
In a way, our relationship with artificial intelligence is almost symbiotic. We have become addicted to it, but it cannot function successfully without our guidance. By recognizing this complex relationship, we can better harness the power of AI and tailor it to our demands. And at the same time, we can also identify our own fallibility in the obvious imperfections hidden within the potential of artificial intelligence. In turn, we can help ensure that we continue to thrive together, both now and in our tentatively optimistic future.