Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Workplace

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been slowly but steadily creeping in to our lives for the last half century and there are no plans to slow down its progress: the AI revolution is coming and it’s going to change everything.

Often when we try to picture what life with advanced AI will look like, it’s all too easy to conjure up Hollywood inspired visions… Humans falling in love with software like in the film “Her”, working alongside androids like Star Trek’s Lieutenant Data, Robo-Cop reading criminals their Miranda rights and Wall-E collecting our refuse. The reality is that most of today’s AI is much more subtle than that. From the virtual assistant in our smart phones to the customer service centres we call every day; we are already being assisted by AI systems and often without even noticing it.

Since its conception one of the hottest AI talking points has been on how the technology will affect our working lives – are robots going to take our jobs? For better or worse the answer for a large percentage of us is a resounding yes. Depending on which research you look at it’s estimated that 30-47% of existing jobs could be replaced by AI in the coming decades. Back in 2014, Oxford University compiled a list showing which jobs are most at risk of being replaced by AI systems. Can’t spot your profession on that list? Try entering it in to this search box on the BBC website which compares your job safety with hundreds of others.

The first to be replaced will be those in unskilled roles such as checkout staff and factory workers. Robots like Baxter is the manual labourer’s biggest competition. This adaptable machine can be re-trained as needed and costs less than a year’s salary of its human counterpart. Baxter is already a part of the workforce in hundreds of businesses across the USA and the UK.

It’s not all bad news though. Most of us will find ourselves working side by side with AI rather than being replaced by it, and with the tech tackling and out-performing humans on routine tasks such as data analysis, humans will be free to focus on other important areas of their work.

A good example of where this augmented approach to AI is already successful is in medicine. IBM’s Watson super-computer is being used in a limited number of hospitals in the US and Canada to diagnose and treat cancer patients. Diagnosing and planning cancer treatment can take teams of doctor’s weeks resulting in countless work hours. The Watson system is able to do the same work in just a few minutes. What’s more, the system constantly improves on itself by learning from each new case it’s given.

Policing and crime prevention is another area where AI is already lending a helping hand. Texas based security software company BRS Labs developed AIsight – A self-learning AI system that uses CCTV to detect out of the ordinary behaviour. Catching crimes as they happen, AIsight then alerts a human such as a security guard or police officer who can intervene. A tad dystopian, but efficient.

Experts say that AI has a long way to go before it can replace humans completely, if ever. Whether or not robots are about to take your job it makes sense to stay ahead of the coming AI revolution by learning new skills and training in areas that are least likely to be replaced by AI. Jobs that involve creativity, social and emotional intelligence and dexterity are all said to be safe from the computers, for now…

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