By Martin Ford, futurist and author of Rise of the Robots and Architects of Intelligence: The Truth about AI from the People Building It The Techsauce Global Summit was kicked off with Martin Ford, who, for more than 10 years has researched Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. He has come to the belief that we are heading for massive disruption in the business and society.

The central idea that he focused on was that robots, machines, and smart algorithms are going to start taking over the work being done by people and this will present society and the economy with real challenges.  This is a view shared by some of the major players and developers in the field of AI and robotics.  Even though there is still some level of skepticism in the industry, it is hard to deny that the technology is there and has leapt ahead in innovation and development over the last ten years.

Mr Ford gave three important reasons why today’s technology will fundamentally change the way society and the economy interact with each other and operates.  Firstly, there has been a continued exponential acceleration.  There is a belief that computers double in power every two years however, we are now at the point where things are going to move even faster.  Technology that we are basically unprepared for will be here in the coming decade due to the accumulated acceleration in the industry.

Secondly, machines, AI’s and algorithms are beginning to take on true cognitive capabilities.  He was not referring to the science fiction version of cognitive AI, rather the ability of machines to learn, problem solve and make decisions.  The driving force behind all this is machine learning; a very powerful technology.  There are growing examples of how this tech is encroaching on elements we used to view as distinctly human capabilities.

Lastly, AI and technology are rapidly becoming a general purpose tech.  Meaning, technology is fast becoming a utility. In the same way, we view electricity, we are starting to view technology and eventually AI.  AI is going to disrupt everything, it is set to impact every sector and everything in a major way.

The one element that everyone is concerned about, is the question of what does AI innovation mean for jobs.  As it is agreed there will be jobs that will be heavily impacted by AI, it is also true that new jobs will be created.  Just in the same way, that new jobs such as website designer and data scientist were created, AI will bring about jobs that we are not yet able to comprehend.  The one major concern with that, is a huge skills mismatch where the jobs will require highly skilled and trained people that current education does not address.

Technology is already having a huge impact on productivity versus compensation.  Up until the 1970s productivity matched compensation perfectly however, that trend changed where productivity increased by compensation decreased or stagnated.  This is due to technology automating processes and displacing workers.  As AI and technology engage more with the economy, these trends could definitely worsen.

Some of the technologies driving this phenomenon are robotics.  For example, a box moving robot offers more dexterity, is able to move one box per second and does not suffer from tiredness or injuries.  These elements push up production rates but require little to no human work.

Another example is white collar automation using AI.  In the last ten years, the corporate employee headcount went down by 40% and this is due to smart software taking care of the rudimentary aspects of office or corporate work.  This number can drastically drop even further with the introduction of more advanced AI.

Also, AI will impact consumer demand and will have a major global impact on the economy as there are more job losses and decreasing wages.  The market economy needs consumers and if you don’t have consumers, there will not be enough economic demand which will lead to economic stagnation with a low rate of growth.  The main question is whether capitalism will survive AI.

Many people are asking how we avoid the downside or potential catastrophic outcomes.  Mr Ford advises that we all avoid the ‘tried and tested’.  Look towards roles that use creativity and roles where you are creating something new.  Also, look towards careers that focus on building sophisticated and empathetic relationships with people.  For example, a nurse as there are certain human elements that machines can never replace or ever be good at.

As a society, there will be some people that will be left behind. A few remedies for that is to basic universal income. More and more countries are starting to debate the viability of its introduction.

Finally, Mr Ford believes that AI is a positive force that will help us solve serious social and economic problems.  AI will be a powerful tool we can use to clean our air, advance healthcare and solve other social inequalities.  However, it does require more open and honest debates from leaders so that everyone can benefit from these advances.

This article was written by Ms. Noleen George, editor of Techsauce Global Summit 2019.

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