Could a robot take my job?

Dani McCarthy looks at the recent Panorama investigation into artificial intelligence, and the supposed threat that we face.

For many, the term AI brings to mind a certain Jude Law film that hit screens over a decade ago. Its content was unique, and the possibility that the notion in the film could ever become a reality was far-fetched. Go even further back, to the 1950s, and the renowned computer scientist Alan Turing was already questioning whether machines can ‘think’. Fast forward to now, and AI has started to infiltrate everyday lives, in ways many are oblivious to. But a Panorama investigation this week has revealed just how far we’ve come in using artificial intelligence, shining light on the supposed threat.

The investigation revealed that while many of the developments in this area have in a way been under the radar for a long time, computing power has doubled in recent years, and its exponential growth has meant that effects of AI which started out relatively small have suddenly taken off. We’ve seen this be the case first hand, as more and more people mention AI in the workplace (Virgin Trains are currently using it for example), bring it up in passing conversation and news anchors explore the topic at length. In an age where technology rules, we are all very much aware that there are changes continuously being made in the digital arena, new technologies bringing positive change and automating many processes to make our lives easier, but it’s as though the world is finally starting to take notice of the bigger picture, and what mass adoption of AI could really mean.

Respected academics and researchers from top universities, from Oxford to MIT featured in the programme, with one making a direct comparison to the industrial revolution, when machines started automating manual work. Personally, I have been interested in the prospects surrounding AI for some time now, but hadn’t put its potential for mass change on the same scale as the industrial revolution. Dubbing AI revolutionary may strike some as ambitious, but it’s certainly got people talking, and at the same time, the potential of AI should not be underestimated or overlooked.

Just to note, I am not saying that in ten or twenty years there will be parents adopting robots and concealing their nature to society. But there will be crossover between the human race and machines. One of the most likely possibilities is that more and more companies will use AI in one form or another to help with workload, which could mean the loss of jobs. Many have become fearful that this is the case, and news outlets across the nation have grappled with this sentiment throughout the week, the BBC featuring a calculator for workers to get an estimated likelihood of whether a robot will take their job (PR sits at 18 per cent for now, win!). Alongside this, research from Oxford University and Deloitte has warned that 35 per cent of UK jobs are at high risk of computerisation over the next twenty years.

It strikes me as playing on fears explored, albeit in a very dramatic way and on an extreme scale, in a number of Hollywood movies, Terminator, Alien, I, Robot to name a few. The history of machines dates back to Greek philosopher Archimedes, who discovered the principle of ‘mechanical advantage’. Since then, we’ve found ways to craft machines to aid almost everything we do. We constantly strive to create a machine that can do more for us, make life easier, and without realising it have pushed them to even think for us. But as we become a world reliant on technology, there are reservations instilled in some, which are portrayed over and over in those films mentioned above, in the idea that we could lose control over the technology we’ve made.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, there is often a level of outcry and sensationalism when it comes to any extreme advances in technology, however with some perspective it was an unavoidable path to take and its benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The Panorama investigation that brought all of this to light also revealed that technology has replaced 800,000 jobs in the last 15 years, but has helped create 300 million jobs at the same time, contributing tremendously to the UK economy. 

The question is, as a rising number of people become sceptical over creating machines which mimic human behaviour, where will it stop? Will technological advances come to a halt, or does it keep going until the control is no longer in our hands?




Dani-Lee McCarthy

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search