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Artificial intelligence: Leap to next development stage or job threat?

Esther Baldwin, artificial intelligence strategist for Intel, center, William Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence entrepreneur formerly with Amazon Alexa, right, and moderator Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and Africa, Bloomberg News, at a panel discussion on ‘Robots and Us: Who Will be Doing What Tomorrow?’ at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Thursday. (Photo courtesy: MGF)
RIYADH: While some see artificial intelligence as a leap to the next developmental stage for humankind, many people are worried about jobs, said Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and Africa, Bloomberg News.
The young generation now wonders what type of jobs they should be looking for, especially after talk of smart cities powered by robots became so relevant.
“Robotics and artificial intelligence have different meanings to different people,” said Esther Baldwin, artificial intelligence strategist for Intel.
She argued that artificial intelligence is “nothing new,” and that people have had degrees in this topic since the 1980s.
Baldwin was speaking on the first day of the MiSK Global Forum, which brings young leaders, creators and thinkers together with established innovators to explore ways to meet challenges of change.
“It’s only in recent research breakthroughs that have made more natural language processing possible, but robots seem to be a topic that engenders more fear that they will take people’s jobs away or they may be dangerous,” she said, adding that it is important to define what a robot is.
Baldwin, who has spent over 25 years at Intel, pointed out that robots can be anything from very small automated devices, all the way up to something that is much more sophisticated.
Addressing autonomous vehicles, Baldwin asked whether they can be counted as robots with humans inside them. “A human is now inside the autonomous vehicle and it is driving the person around. So, is that a robot?”
Seeing a robot walking around any time soon is still very unlikely, said William Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence entrepreneur formerly with Amazon Alexa.
With autonomous driving, said Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence does have an impact on jobs. “Autonomous cars are replacing the jobs of millions of people,” he said, adding that computers have started to do things that previously only the human brain could do.
Jobs will change once robots come along, but Hamade argued that “it is not like it is the first time in human history that industries have changed. The horse and carriage was a huge industry and then it disappeared.”
According to Hamade, agricultural jobs in the US have been declining for 170 years, and manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 and have been declining ever since. “However, service jobs have been steadily rising for a very long time. So, what is the difference this time?”
“From the first industrial revolution until today, we have been talking about augmenting humans, making it easier for them to do their jobs,” said Baldwin, adding: “If you look at labor productivity, I don’t know anybody who is working fewer hours today than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Other than France, which has designated a shorter work week for people, most people are working the same number of hours, and so it is really a shift in what we are doing.”
Tunstall-Pedoe argued that the only difference between change in the 19th century/early 20th century and now is the pace of change. “I think there is plenty of evidence that the pace of change is increasing.”
It is not necessarily clear that new jobs will replace current jobs as happened in the past, as no one knows for sure what is going to happen, said Tunstall-Pedoe, who advised the young audience attending the forum that “the remedy is to keep learning, be part of this technological change and adapt to it, and continue to learn new skills so you don’t get left behind. Stay on top of technology, apply AI (artificial intelligence)to your existing business.”
He said that senior management jobs that involve complex management of people, evolved technologies and entrepreneurship are going to be the last ones to be replaced, contrary to the simpler jobs that will be among the first to be replaced.
Involving more people in coding and programing is not the answer, according to Baldwin.
“We already seeing applications where AI is doing coding. I trained as an engineer, and if I look at the advancements over the life of my career, I used to have to do manual drafting. I don’t have to do that anymore, because of high-performance computing and simulation.”
Engineers, she said, like to solve and frame problems, which is a “crucial” trait for which humans cannot be replaced.
“There are two things critical for success: Desire and opportunity,” she said, adding that “it is very apparent that the leaders of this country are providing the youth with opportunity. The question is — do the youth have the desire? And when you match these two together, you can only be successful.”

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