KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Is technology taking over our jobs? It is a question raised by many as robots, artificial intelligence and the potential of self-driving cars threatens to take over many roles traditionally performed by humans.
According to a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Oxford, about 47 percent of all US jobs are at risk of computerization — including drivers and bank workers.
But technologist Justine Cassell said that “artificial intelligence isn’t the demon”. Instead of fearing for our jobs, we need to build a fruitful partnership with machines, because they cannot replace us.
“There’s a fundamental need for artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies that are interdependent with people in an ecosystem where tools do what they do best and humans do what they do best,” Cassell, associate dean of technology strategy and impact at the School of Computer Science at the US-based Carnegie Mellon University. “I think that’s the way forward.”
She was speaking to Arab News on Tuesday on the sidelines of her address on “big data” at the Top CEO Conference at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
Countries are blaming technology and immigration for job loss. But Cassell argues that the downturn in the economy happened before the digitization of jobs. She said this is a way of putting the blame elsewhere rather than looking at one’s own society. “The impact is more economic than technical,” she said.
The workforce model is shifting from the traditional route of getting a degree and having a job at a single employer. Now it is more about embracing new technologies. Because of that, the notion of re-skilling is extremely important, Cassell said. “The piece of advice that I would give to every CEO is to invest in re-skiLling your workforce. I would the same advice for governments,” she added.
Seeing technology as a disrupting force in the job market comes from the lack of understanding it. Technophobes do not know how these technologies are going to make decisions or what these decisions are based on, Cassell noted.
“Once we are surer that the decisions that these technologies make are based on the same values that we have then we’ll be happier and more content to let them on our roads,” she continued, referring to self-driven cars as an example of a new technology.
Technology and our children
Is technology taking over our children’s lives?
In a society like Saudi Arabia, where young children spend hours on their tablets, it is inevitable to question the impact. Cassell’s question to parents is “what are your children doing on their iPads?” If they are communicating with other young children then they are bringing their social skills into a new world, Cassell said.
Research shows that most of the communication people have online is with people they also know offline, which Cassell said was the case before the Internet, with children speaking with their friends after school over the phone.
Encouraging children to play video games in teams rather than alone is one way to customize gaming to benefit social skills. Cassell believes that spending time online comes as a response to the child’s “offline” life.
“The technology is there to fill a void that already existed. So my question is, are parents taking their children to parks or are they spending their time texting? Are they giving opportunities to spend time outside and giving them a life (that) competes with the iPads? If not, then they only have themselves to blame if their children are spending long hours playing video games.”