Lola De Coster
Design Management & Cultures
Before starting my DPS year, I wrote a piece to reflect on an event byt Second Home Spitafield about the future of work. Conscious that AI is a lingering and worrying concern, I share with you some answers to very legitimate questions:
AI & the Future of Work was an event hosted by Second Home Spitalfield and organized by Studio Zao. The three guest speakers on AI & the future of work were Teresa Kotlicka from People Development Director at Sony Music which gave an enriching outsider point of view and helped non-AI experts get closer to the subject; Iain Wallace as Head of Innovation at ACE UK GOV that had a refreshing view on startups, today’s entrepreneurial culture and its new technological challenges and, Anton Fishman, HR and tech start-up advisor which thanks to his teaching experience, created an accessible space for debates and reflections. The event was introduced by the panel’s host, a collaborator from City.AI about artificial intelligence and its current statistics and its position in society.
So what is the place and space of AI in a world with constantly growing and aging demographics? With challenges such as environmental collapse and an increasing technology dependent upcoming generations?
Statistics have shown that by 2025, 52% of the world’s labor will be replaced by machines and algorithms. However, 72% of people believe that AI will be incapable of fully replacing humans. On this, Anton Fishman adds that the scale and panic around AI is widely misinterpreted. People tend to believe in the myth of machines taking over the world, leaving humans useless; they are too concerned about progress without really thinking about its deeper meaning. Fishman reassures us that in fact, machine learning is still at its early stages and that compared to humans, artificial intelligence has the only capability of a worm our of outmost a mouse. He insists that AI taking overcoming close to human capacity is as far away as us populating Mars. Yes, machines can replace human tasks but we must not forget that humans have jobs that can vary in complexity, emotional intelligence and the number of tasks required to complete it.
But what if a job can be separated in chunks of multiple tasks, would it then be replaced by a bunch of different machines? For Theresa, this question seemed abstract: what kind of job would be completely replaced by machines?
According to her, jobs also include empathy, collaborations between people, and are part of networks of systems and people; a machine would never be able to replace this completely. Fishman finds that this depends on the level of the task. In accounting and law, for example, tasks like finding the right document and that took ages are now being found by AI which is saving a tremendous amount of time but also at the loss of jobs mostly of people in junior levels that were given the task in the first place. Other jobs on the contrary such as those in healthcare can still rely on AI for help but have still a high bonding, relation-and empathy oriented core, which can hardly be replaced by machine learning.
On another note, Theresa adds that a healthier vision on the topic is to focus on what empowers humans rather than what technology is replacing. In her opinion, one of our advantages is the fact that we can give meaning to the world around us whereas AI can hardly make sense of the multitude of tasks it is preoccupied with. If robots are going to replace unfulfilling tasks this should be seen as something that would give us more time to focus on other pressing issues that require human capacity; AI is not replacing us but enriching humanity. So what do jobs with a meaning look like? Kotlicka’s answer was not that straightforward but it comes down to jobs where human interaction and connections are at their highest. This is supported by Iain Wallace, which points out that in the list of the 10 jobs for the future were those of storyteller, chief network/communication officer, and teaching.
What about those who will be replaced by machines in 5 years? Is there enough time for them to learn new skills and adapt to their changing lives? Are we actually challenging ourselves enough while facing AI?
As an entrepreneur and head of innovation himself, Wallace gives us examples of corporations that actively organizes programs to coach, train and raise awareness on the issue aimed at employees that would be most affected by the (r)evolution. On a bigger scale, Finland has created a free program available for its citizens to use in order to learn about machine learning. On our ability to take on the challenge against AI he finds the answer in his own definition of philosophy of entrepreneurship: entrepreneurship is about constantly challenging the status quo and retaliation against society. AI is just the next challenge or the new commodity to tackle.
To conclude, this panel insists that there is no need to be worried about AI, but rather to look at it as an opportunity to move forward and reinvent ourselves. After all, the best examples of what AI might do to our jobs are found in the design field. With new programs and tools, design has gone through a huge technological evolution years ago. It came with its challenges and losses, and definitely, not everyone managed to keep up with the change, but willing or not there is a credit to be given as without this evolution design would not have been as innovative and relevant as today. AI gave design the opportunity to go beyond arts and crafts and to explore design thinking, creative problem solving and branding as a strategy. If in Fishman’s opinion designers are the ones that are the less worried about robots and algorithms taking over, is because they ended up embracing it and they realized that the only thing that changed are the tools they used.