I’ve been reading up on artificial intelligence lately. AI, as it’s referred to, is a big topic with lots of exciting possibilities. Like many technology-inspired changes, the adoption of AI brings with it incredible promises for improvement. But, it also conjures up fear of impending disaster.

“No, robots will not organize a digital insurrection and take over the planet—at least, not anytime soon,” says Michael Rosinski, CEO of Astoria Software. “But, AI will usher in dramatic and significant changes to the way we live, work, and play.”

Rosinski’s right. Big change is coming. AI is already part of our daily lives. Fast food joints, banks and credit card companies and customer service departments of all types are using the power of machine learning to automate numerous tasks historically performed by humans.

Artificial Intelligence Will Eliminate Jobs, Not Work

Some researchers believe an interconnected, cognitive world of artificial intelligence will lead to the displacement of millions of workers. Others say it will lead to new artisan-type jobs that require a unique mix of technical know-how, interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving.

Just before President Barack Obama left office in January 2017, The White House published a report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” that details where job losses are expected to occur. Made for the White House by the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, the report (removed from The White House website after Donald Trump took office) predicts:

  • 83% of US jobs paying less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement
  • Up to 47% of all US jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological advancements, with most job losses due to occur amongst the undereducated
  • As many as 3.1 million car, bus, and truck driving jobs will be eliminated in the US due to the adoption of autonomous vehicles

Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Just A Blue Collar Threat

Disruption isn’t limited to service work and other blue-collar labor. White collar knowledge work will change, too. McKinsey & Company estimates that “as much as 45 percent of the activities individuals currently perform in the workplace can be automated using already demonstrated technologies.” Automating those tasks will save US industry an estimated $2 trillion USD in annual wages.

That’s not good news for some white-collar workers, whose jobs will be impacted by AI. Whether those occupations will be redefined—or eliminated—remains to be seen. What is certain is that some activities performed by knowledge workers in the digital labor pool will be automated, requiring a realignment of job roles and responsibilities.

Pretty much any job you can think of is riddled with activities that could be made more efficient if automated. Even mundane legal work—like appealing parking tickets—can be successfully automated.

How To Avoid Being Automated

In his farewell speech, outgoing President Barack Obama warned US citizens that “the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

Labor researchers say widespread adoption of AI can help US companies overcome less-than-impressive productivity gains. The benefits of AI—increased output, faster time-to-value, higher quality, improved consistency, and reliability—far outweigh the financial costs. A 2013 article in MIT Technology Review claims warehouses equipped with robots process four times the amount of orders as those that have yet to adopt automation.

Automation of routine, repetitive tasks, analysts say, allows workers to spend more time focused on creative tasks that provide value to the company and its customers. And, it allows companies to invest in highly-skilled, knowledgeable and experienced workers who will use artificial intelligence to augment their work.

Human-computer collaborations, some argue, will create an entirely new class of work. A quick search of the online jobs database Indeed provides a peek at the AI-related roles that companies are looking to fill today.

Thomas Hayes Davenport and Julia Kirby wrote a book loaded with advice for workers who want to ensure they won’t be replaced by technology entitled, Only Humans Need Apply. The authors say they believe viewing AI as competition—taking jobs away from humans—is a mistake.

”Instead of viewing these machines as competitive interlopers,” the authors say, “we see them as partners and collaborators in creative problem solving” that help us work better, faster, and smarter.

Earlier this year, Jonas Prising, CEO of ManpowerGroup, speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, offered actionable advice to those fearful of automation.

“In an environment where new skills emerge as fast as others become extinct,” Prising said, “employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn.”

Be Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

Learning everything you can about AI—and how it can help you work more efficiently and effectively—is a good first step toward avoiding displacement. Develop an area of expertise, but don’t limit yourself.

  • Seek out learning opportunities online (there are a wide variety of free, web-based classes covering artificial intelligence-related topics, and lessons shared by professionals, like this on machine learning from the folks at R2D3.
  • Stay abreast of best practices being developed now by Partnership on AI and pay attention to what’s happening at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
  • Keep tabs on the great work from San Francisco-based, OpenAI, a non-profit research firm dedicated to helping us build safe AI systems that are available to everyone.
  • Attend a conference—like Information Development World—to determine the best route forward, learn best practices, and to gain insight from others who have made the mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

The Future of Work Looks Bright

There’s good reason to be concerned about the future of work—and your place in the labor pool. But, let’s not assume the worst. Many tasks currently performed by humans will be automated. But that’s no reason to believe that the future of work is dim.

“Historically productivity growth has been associated with rising living standards for the bulk of the working population. There is no technological reason that this will not be the case in the future,” says Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research. There is no obvious basis for thinking that future technologies will be more harmful to ordinary workers than the technological developments of the prior seventy years.”

The future of work looks bright. Make sure you’re ready.