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)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Artificial intelligence: Leap to next development stage or job threat?

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.”


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”