AI Robots: job takers or job makers?

HAL 9000, The T-800, Data, Rachael, Bishop, KITT, Agent Smith, Holly, Mia, Teddy… you can’t say we weren’t warned.
(Pop quiz: Know the films/shows the characters above are from? Answers at the end).
Travel back to a smoggy November 1st 1698 and as you flicked through your morning edition of the London Gazette, you’d have read about Thomas Savery patenting a piece of futuristic, unfathomable, super-technology – the world’s first steam engine.
Since then, cogs, belts, valves, microchips and code have allowed us to create ever more sophisticated automated technology. The rise of the machines has been coming for centuries.
What do immigrants and robots have in common?
They’re both accused of stealing jobs. The reality with robots, and proven to be the case with foreign labour, is that they provide a valuable contribution to an evolving economy. You only have to look at the 20th century to see how automation has helped grow economies and create new jobs:
1920s – The automation of production lines (creating engineering and maintenance roles)
1960s – Introduction of computers (programming and IT roles)
1990s – Internet retailers (warehouse, distribution and manufacturing roles)
2000s – AI used for data and decision making (coding and programming)
The reality is: technology is as evolutionary as biological evolution itself. As long as there’s Humans, there’s a good chance there’ll be AI. And when we move beyond the fear and accept that technology will continue to get smarter, we can begin to see it as a part of society, not a blight on it. If anything, technology, like higher consciousness, is allowing us to focus on bigger things, leaving basic tasks to automation.
Besides, you already use robots every day
Ever used Mr Paperclip in Microsoft Word? Withdrawn money from an ATM? Or got a drink from a vending machine? These are all tasks that could be done by a human, but we choose to use technology instead because it’s cheaper, quicker and more convenient. So why should businesses think any different?
Contrary to popular belief (and Hollywood), AI isn’t an all-consuming plague on the job-market, yes it takes roles from humans, but it also contributes many more in different areas – often higher-paid.
Systems like IBMs Watson and Babylon Health’s Chatbot are already replacing data entry, research and unqualified customer service roles, helping businesses speed up processes, improve customer experience and make savings. In the case of Babylon Health’s NHS Chatbot, the savings made can help a strained organisation invest much needed money in human talent elsewhere.
Keeping one step ahead creates jobs
The real threat posed by technology isn’t job taking, it’s that today’s qualifications could be obsolete tomorrow – as quickly as your laptop goes out of date. A 2017 graduate may already be second best to AI for a particular role, which further emphasises the need for society to rethink the way it sees advanced automation. And in reality, this is where the generational benefit lies.
Technology drags our workforce and skill-set forward, replacing low-paid jobs with better-paid ones. We just need to ensure human intelligence is one step ahead of artificial intelligence and here in the UK, this is already happening.
Creating a centre of excellence
At the end of 2016, Theresa May announced a £2 billion investment in research and development. At the heart of this is a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, working hand-in-hand with businesses, and educational institutions, to make robotics a major part of the UK economy. And she means business:
“It is about making the most of the historic opportunity we now have to signal an important, determined change.”
The PM is right, this is an historic opportunity, which is why in February she set aside a further £17 million specifically for the AI sector, to help the UK become a global centre of excellence. AI may take lower-skilled jobs in the future, but with an R&D pot of over £2 billion, it’s creating 1000s of new jobs right now.
So, how well do you know your job-munching AI robots?
T-800 – Terminator
HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Data – Star Trek TNG
Rachael – Blade Runner
Bishop – Alien
Agent Smith – The Matrix
Holly – Red Dwarf
Mia – Humans
Teddy – Westworld
KITT – Knightrider (coolest by far)
Published by Darren Timmins – our resident AI & Automation expert.
If you have any comment or questions feel free to get in touch on