Advertisement
  1. Business

Artificial intelligence might not threaten the human race, but it could be coming for your job

American Futurist and author Martin Ford appears at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2016. (© B540/ Guillem Lopez/UPPA via ZUMA Press)
Published Sep. 20, 2018

You likely have heard how artificial intelligence is changing the world, from smart phones that keep getting smarter to all the experimenting with driverless vehicles.

The rapidly improving technology has also begun replacing workers, especially anyone who performs routine tasks. By some accounts, artificial intelligence could impact half the jobs in the country over the next 25 years.

Don't think of it as a new tool like the cotton gin or the personal computer, so much as a massively disruptive transformation. It's being called the next industrial revolution.

Futurist Martin Ford, author of the Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future and the soon-to-be released Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it, equates artificial intelligence to the impact from the invention and spread of electricity, but with more downside.

In popular culture, artificial intelligence is often depicted as a threat to human existence. Ford acknowledges that we shouldn't ignore that longer-term prospect, but he's more concerned with how artificial intelligence will upend the economy.

"AI has the potential to help us fight global poverty, cure diseases and tackle climate change," he told me before giving the keynote speech at the Manufacturers Association of Florida conference in St. Petersburg on Thursday. "But it will also create a lot more inequality."

THE POWER ELITE Meet some of the 500 most influential business leaders in the state.

New technologies have prompted many "the sky is falling" proclamations over the centuries. More than 400 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I denied a patent for a knitting machine, fearing it would put hand knitters out of work. The advent of the car was met with near hysteria in some quarters.

On the whole, however, the advances created new jobs, often safer ones that eventually paid better, helping make the United States the richest nation in the world.

Ford has quipped that earlier technological advancements decimated a particular class of workers:

Horses.

Unlike our equine friends, our intelligence and ability to learn and adapt quickly allowed us to stay ahead of the technological curve. Machines were more efficient at rote tasks like affixing caps onto bottles or repeatedly installing the same car part, but they couldn't outthink us. They needed humans to conceive of what to put in the bottles and to invent the airbags and advanced braking systems in all those cars.

The difference now: The machines are starting to think, make decisions and adapt accordingly. They are learning — rapidly. That means they can encroach on what makes us uniquely human and, at least so far, indispensable to the economy.

In other words, we are starting to look a little more like horses.

"We could very well end up in a future with significant unemployment, or at a minimum, we could face lots of underemployment, or stagnant wages or maybe even declining wages," Ford said during last year's TED2017 "The Future You" conference. "All of that, of course, is going to put a terrific amount of stress on the fabric of society."

That from a man who describes himself as an optimist.

Ford emphasized Thursday that artificial intelligence and machine learning will invade every part of the economy in coming years, vaporizing blue- and white-collar jobs.

He said it's already affecting some of the more routine parts of finance and accounting. Wall Street relies on software capable of analyzing huge amounts of data to make trades in milliseconds. In the near future, artificial intelligence-assisted software will kick out legal contracts.

"I think we will be astonished by what AI is able to do," he said. "And we won't be prepared for some of it."

RELATED: More business news

Which industries are less likely to succumb to this burgeoning technology?

Jobs that require creativity, such as certain aspects of engineering, design, marketing and advertising. Anything that includes thinking up new ideas, such as new businesses, ingenious legal arguments or cutting-edge environmental policy.

Ford also listed nurses, electricians and plumbers, jobs that involve mobility and dexterity in unpredictable environments. Robots don't perform well in those conditions, not yet at least.

"My best advice is avoid anything routine, repetitive and predictable," he said. "And be willing to adapt."

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Jeffrey D. Senese was inaugurated as Saint Leo University's 10th president. Pictured, Monsignor Robert Morris (left), Class of 1979, and a member of the board of trustees, and D. Dewey Mitchell, chair of the university’s board of trustees, bestow the presidential medallion on Senese. Renee Gerstein and William Speer, Saint Leo University
    New and notes on local businesses
  2. Dr. Manjusri Vennamaneni (center) was awarded Businesswoman of the Year by the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce. With her are Matt Romeo, President of PrimeCare (left), and Dr. Pariksith Singh, CEO, Access Health Care Physicians. Vince Vanni
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. Tampa Bay Lighting host a watch party on the beach at the Tradewinds resort on St. Pete Beach in February. LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    TradeWinds is the biggest resort in Pinellas County.
  4. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  5. The Whole Coffee Company makes Dunkin’-branded Coffee Thins as well as Tim Hortons Double Double bars and its own Whole Coffee Company-branded nudge coffee bars. (Photo courtesy The Whole Coffee Company) The Whole Coffee Company
    The Whole Coffee Company, which is based in Miami, was previously known as Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa. ProspEquity Partners of Tampa owns a majority stake in Whole Coffee.
  6. The Corona Cove opens as the Florida Aquarium's new outdoor bar. The beer company is pledging continued donations to aid conservation efforts. Florida Aquarium
    The beer company also has pledged donations to aid conservation efforts.
  7. The Triton cantaloupe, created with help from Eckerd College. Eckerd College
    The St. Petersburg college teamed up with a central Florida plant breeder to create the Triton cantaloupe.
  8. FILE - In this May 14, 2019, fiel photo, containers are piled up at a port in Qingdao in east China's Shandong province. China’s economic growth slowed to a 26-year low in the latest quarter as a tariff war with Washington weighed on exports and auto sales and other domestic activity weakened. The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.2 percent in the three months ending in September, down from the previous quarter’s 6 percent, data showed Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. AP
    Growth in the world’s second-largest economy slipped to 6% in the three months ending in September, down from the previous quarter’s 6.2%, data showed Friday.
  9. Ryan Cummings, 23, left, and Alex Frey, 25, both of Tampa, rent Spin electric scooters from a corral located along Zack Street in May. St. Petersburg hopes to soon launch it's own scooter program. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The city wants to avoid other cities’ mistakes. Scooters will not be allowed on sidewalks and must be parked in designated corrals.
  10. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement