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AI's Double-edged Sword - Automation and Augmentation: A Future We Should Embrace or Fear?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is rapidly transforming the world as we know it.
23:57 12 May 2023
AI's Double-edged Sword - Automation and Augmentation: A Future We Should Embrace or Fear?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is rapidly transforming the world as we know it. Opinions on the role of AI to humanity are split. On one hand, supporters of a new digital age are embracing the changes brought about by AI. On the other hand, sceptics argue that AI can interfere in the very foundation of the social and economic balance that humans have achieved. The impact of AI on employment is one hot topic and a main feature of this article.
AI technology introduces two opposing forces on human capital employability: automation and augmentation.
I. Automation: A Risk to Employability?
What the Literature Says
AI's automation capabilities are a source of great concern for the overall employability of humans. The mere thought of machines taking over our jobs, is a topic that has caught the attention of regulators and decision makers. How much automation is too much automation? Are we ready to disturb the economic balance that we have become accustomed for more efficiency?
Several studies, such as Webb (2020) and Acemoglu et al. (2022), delved into this topic. By using natural-language processing (NLP) algorithms, they identify the work groups that are at risk of being replaced by AI based automation.
Although one would expect to see manual jobs at risk of becoming obsolete, studies have shown that professional careers involving complex tasks are also becoming replaceable by AI technology.
A Paradigm Shift: From Job Polarization to Deskilling
This revelation encourages us to rethink our assumptions about AI's impact on the workforce. AI’s influence on the human workforce does not stop with job polarization. There is indeed a chilling probability that AI could lead to a process of occupational deskilling. The very technology that was planned to develop humanity may ultimately have a degrading impact on our skills and intellect.
Some researchers believe that AI is still far from taking over the complex decision-making tasks that humans excel at. After all, AI lacks the contextual understanding and empathy needed to navigate the intricacies of real-world problems. Acemoglu et al. (2022) point out that AI has yet to show any significant effects on the labour market at the aggregate occupation level.
In some areas, like digital marketing, the impact of AI has already matured to a point where it is distorting the very foundations of the discipline. To better understand how AI is impacting traditional business processes in the content creation process, it is essential to read this insightful review of Content At Scale. This article, explains how AI-driven content creation tools are taking over the creation of high-quality content.
Job Obsolescence – Which technical jobs are at risk with AI?
- Clinical laboratory technicians: As AI becomes better at detecting patterns, making judgments, and optimizing, technicians who conduct lab tests and analyze results could be replaced by AI-driven solutions.
- Power plant operators: AI has the potential to monitor and control power plant operations more efficiently, posing a threat to human power plant operators.
- Optometrists: AI can enhance diagnostic capabilities in the field of eye care, which may reduce the need for human optometrists in certain diagnostic tasks.
- Quality control inspectors: AI has made strides in automating inspection and quality control tasks, particularly in production environments, putting these roles at risk.
II. Augmentation: The Benevolent AI Overlord?
Autor et al. (2022): The Unsung Heroes of AI Research
Despite the risk of job obsolescence introduced by AI, this technology is capable of augmenting human labour in the form of new job creation and transformation of existing ones.
Autor and his team of visionaries have done ground-breaking work in this area. By analysing the emergence of new job titles in the US Census Bureau's occupational descriptions, it was found that more than 60% of US employment in 2018 consisted of job titles that didn't exist in 1940. Talk about progress!
Autor et al. (2022) have also developed an ingenious method to examine the relationship between technological progress and new job creation. By using NLP on patent data, they've been able to identify which technologies augment worker tasks instead of automating them. The results are fascinating to say the least. Some occupations, like industrial engineers and analysts, have seen their employment increase thanks to augmentation.
In the field of digital marketing, one example of AI augmentation that has revolutionized the video content creation process is Synthesia.io. By leveraging AI-generated avatars, this platform allows businesses to create high-quality video content without the need for expensive equipment, actors, or extensive editing. In this case, AI has empowered content creators like never before as they are able to produce professional quality video content with the use of AI.
The Race Between Automation and Augmentation: A Thrilling Spectacle
The findings mentioned above lead us to a conclusion where automation and augmentation are two highly relevant opposing forces on the jobs market. Some occupations are exposed to both forces, while others remain unaffected by AI technology (for now). Policymakers must take into consideration both forces and harness the potential of AI to create a future where human skills have to adapt and complement AI technology. Striking the right balance will minimize the impact of AI on job security and overall well-being of humans.
New Jobs on the Horizon: A World Shaped by AI
AI's potential to create new jobs is a tantalizing prospect. Autor et al. (2022) do not specifically focus on AI, but we can already see glimpses of an AI-driven future in the job market. From digital assistant engineers to warehouse robot engineers and content-taggers on social media, a brave new world of AI-augmented jobs awaits us.
But we must ask ourselves: Are these the jobs we want AI to create? It is a highly relevant question that policymakers and society as a whole must address. At the same time, we must grapple with the possibility that AI might erode employment in high-paying jobs, even as it generates new opportunities.
New Jobs Created by AI:
- AI specialists: As AI continues to evolve, there will be a growing need for professionals who understand AI systems, can develop new applications, and ensure AI is used responsibly and ethically.
- Digital assistant engineers: As digital assistants become more sophisticated and integrated into our lives, engineers who specialize in designing, programming, and maintaining these AI-driven systems will be in demand.
- Warehouse robot engineers: With the increasing use of robotics in warehouses and logistics, professionals who can design, maintain, and improve warehouse robots will be crucial.
- Content taggers on social media: As AI-driven content moderation becomes more widespread on social media platforms, human content taggers who can review AI-generated tags and maintain the quality of content moderation will be needed.
III. AI: A Future to Embrace or Fear?
As discussed, AI is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to the jobs market. On the one hand, there is a risk for both manual and skilled jobs being easily replaced by AI. On the other, AI can augment our capabilities and open up a whole new world of employment opportunities.
In time, AI might render some jobs obsolete, but it will also create new ones.
As this powerful tool continues to evolve, Policymakers should take action now, steering AI development towards augmentation rather than automation. Resources should be deployed towards the investment in education and training programs that prepare workers for the AI-driven job market. Most importantly, one must keep an open mind and be willing to adapt to a dynamic landscape.
In the end, AI is here to stay, whether we like it or not. We must now decide how we will navigate this brave new world. Will we cower in fear, or will we rise to the challenge and seize the opportunities that AI presents?
IV. Conclusion: A Call to Action
The debate over AI's impact on the job market is far from over. Automation and augmentation are two powerful forces that will shape our future in profound ways. It is indeed essential that we keep an open mind and engage in a meaningful dialogue about the implications of AI for the workforce.
We must embrace the uncertainties, the paradoxes, and the possibilities and work together to create a future where AI is a force for good.
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