Is artificial intelligence the great job eliminator or creator?

Artificial intelligence image
An artificial intelligence image. (Pixabay (Creative Common free for use))

As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) grows, so, too, does the debate over how it will impact jobs.

The automation it allows is seen affecting employees in lower and even midlevel positions, especially those whose duties involve repetitive tasks. But AI is also seen as creating many positions on the higher end, including those related to AI.

The question becomes will this pan out as generally thought or will there be wrinkles as the development of AI progresses.

AI another significant innovation

"Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation, and AI will likely follow this route," said Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner, in a release accompanying their report "Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work."

But the ride may not be a smooth one, New York Institute of Technology Professor Kevin LaGrandeur said. “Unfortunately, the answer for many employees is yes, AI will cause a loss of jobs. Those who have jobs that mainly entail working with numbers or with repetitive tasks, or both, have already seen a decline in their work prospects. Factory workers have already lost many jobs to automation. But more surprising and scary is the fact that so have middle class workers: accountants, for instance, have already seen software like TurboTax automate much of their work. The same with paralegals.”

In terms of “productivity, humans cannot keep up with ever-faster computers and robots,” LaGrandeur said. “And even when they can, machines and digital systems are often more convenient and cheaper.”

"AI is making IT organizations smarter, faster, and more efficient than ever before—and before we know it, AI will be at the core of every technology industry sector,” said Bob Friday, CTO of Mist, in a blog post.

Replacing the middleman

“As a direct effect, AI will start to replace all the middlemen jobs like help desk, data gathering, and accountants,” Friday told FierceCEO.

An Allegis Group survey of more than 300 HR professionals, senior-manager level and above, reported mixed feelings about AI and its impact on the future of work. Twenty-one percent view AI as something to be excited about. Seventeen percent consider it both disrupting and enabling, and 9% believe AI will displace most jobs in 10 years.

“This mixed view of AI is not surprising, because the technology does more than automate tasks: It changes the nature of the work we do,” Rachel Russell, Allegis Group’s executive director of corporate strategy, told CMS Wire. “Of course, some jobs will certainly be lost as AI takes on skills formerly attributed to humans.”

But adjustments can be made, such as retraining workers and creating new positions.

Impact can't be determined

David Poole, CEO of Symphony Ventures, said AI in its current form isn’t enterprise-ready yet, so while there’s a great deal of hype around the technology, its impact on jobs can’t really be determined.

“That said, technology has been impacting the way we work for decades, and for those jobs and tasks that will be automated, new roles and industries will emerge that play up the inherent strengths of both human and robotic workforces,” Poole said.

A survey by Pegasystems found that most respondents believe the advent of automation may not mean humans are displaced from the workforce but rather that they are diverted to other areas of the business. Almost seven out of 10 (69%) respondents expect automating processes that currently require manual completion will make a significant difference in enabling staff to perform much more varied roles. This is not only good for the organization, creating more flexible working patterns and a focus on higher value tasks, but also good for the staff member, who may find their new duties more stimulating, the survey said.

“Some companies are not focused on reducing head count and replacing employees with technology—not because they are averse to technology, but because they still value human interaction,” said Fara Haron, CEO of CRM Solutions in North America and the Philippines for Arvato. “There will always be a human that is training the robot.”

“I believe that there will be significant impacts across specific jobs and roles versus others—blue collar and white collar,” said Matt Abrams, partner at Seven Peaks Ventures. “However, I also see tremendous opportunities for augmenting jobs versus replacing them entirely and optimizing their overall efficiency.”

'All types' of jobs impacted

And, “yes, all types of jobs will be impacted and, unless we provide a road map and education, understanding and new training, the impacts could be very hard—the education is not just about retraining, but educating the public and our leaders as to what's possible and providing a road map and vision as to how to get from point A to Z,” Abrams said.

“AI, like any new disruptive technology, will employ millions of people in new types of jobs, and yes, eliminate some as well,” Kryon Systems CEO Harel Tayeb said. “We’ll see a lot more job titles like AI Trainer, AI Interaction Designer and AI Engineer in the near future.”

“As we continue to integrate new technologies like AI into the workplace, there will inevitably be some displacement,” said Gabe Batstone, CEO of Contextere. “Instead of pretending it will not occur or acting like it’s the end of the world, we must sensibly manage AI integration through a combination of education, training and ironically, other technology to ensure the transition will be smooth.”

“AI is not something to be feared; it should be welcomed,” said IDx CEO Gary Seamans. “It is simply the next wave of technology innovation.”