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Robots will create more jobs than they eradicate by 2020

Artificial intelligence technology will begin to create more jobs than it replaces, says Gartner

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology will begin to create more jobs than it replaces in 2020, with two million more jobs created than replaced by AI by 2025.

According to Gartner, fears around AI taking over jobs does not take into account how the technology and humans can work together to create new employment.

The analyst company said that during the next couple of years, jobs will be created by the use of AI in the healthcare, education and public sectors, while the manufacturing sector will see the largest number of jobs removed.

AI technology and automation software are eating into the white-collar job sector in a similar way to how machinery has affected the blue-collar sector for centuries.

But Gartner predicts that in 2020, AI will begin to create more jobs that it makes defunct. “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 is likely to follow this route,” said Svetlana Sicular, research vice-president at Gartner.

AI will improve the productivity of many functions, eliminating millions of middle- and low-level posts, but also creating millions of new positions for highly skilled, management and even entry-level and low-skilled staff.

“Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation,” said Sicular. “That overshadows the greatest AI benefit, AI augmentation, which is a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other.”

Gartner predicts that AI will complement many roles, and that one in five workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do their job. “AI has already been applied to highly repeatable tasks where large quantities of observations and decisions can be analysed for patterns,” the analyst said.

“However, applying AI to less-routine work that is more varied due to lower repeatability will soon start yielding superior benefits. AI applied to non-routine work is more likely to assist humans than replace them as combinations of humans and machines will perform more effectively than either human experts or AI-driven machines working alone will.”

Increasing revenue

The manufacturing industry is set to be a major beneficiary, said Gartner, pointing out that automation will lead to cost savings and the removal of friction in value chains, increasing revenue further. Gartner predicts that in 2021, AI augmentation will generate $2.9tn in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.

Retail is another industry that is introducing AI. However, Gartner said that between now and 2022, retailers will attempt, but fail, to replace sales staff with AI because many consumers still prefer to interact with a knowledgeable sales person when visiting a store. But cashier and operational jobs will be reduced, it added.

“Leveraging technologies such as AI and robotics, retailers will use intelligent process automation to identify, optimise and automate labour-intensive and repetitive activities that are currently performed by humans, reducing labour costs through efficiency from headquarters to distribution centres and stores,” said Gartner. “Many retailers are already expanding technology use to improve the in-store check-out process.”

The analyst said savings made by automating repetitive tasks in retail could be reinvested in training staff to enhance the customer experience. Robert Hetu, research director at Gartner, added: “Retailers will come to view AI as a way to augment customer experiences rather than just removing humans from every process.”

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I hope this prediction is correct, but I fear AI could have the opposite effect to the Black Death (which caused a labour shortage that upset the feudal system). The key factor is the encroachment of automation on analytic as well as physical labour.
Things may move in the direction of Eloi as imagined by HG Wells, but instead of Morlocks an engineering elite who command or nominally manage key technical sectors. Certain residual tasks, e.g. those with an essential requirement for human contact, could end up being done on a piecemeal basis by a mixture of volunteer or highly incentivised involvement (depending on the appeal of the task) by an otherwise leisured populace living on helicopter money.
For me, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World remains a plausible prophecy. However, the eventual result -- the virtual elimination of wage/fee employment as we know it -- could be more utopian than Huxley envisaged.
PS -- I overlooked the fact that Huxley didn't cover AI or computers in detail, and I suspect that subsequent discoveries in genetics will not be used to create Alpha, Beta (etc.) individuals -- rather, robots will take over. However, the social aspects of Brave New World seem relevant.